After two decades Washington state gets its first new wilderness area

First new wilderness in state in 2 decades is easily accessible. By Jennifer A. Dlouhy. Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The new Wild Sky Wilderness Area is 106,000 acres. It failed in the last Congress when House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo killed at. Due in part to strong action by conservationists across America, he is no longer a member of Congress.

This was part of an omnibus bill, not the best way of passing legislation, but that is another topic.

May 1. I got some email from a listserv I’m on. Regarding Wild Sky, it was written “Wild Sky has few trails, and the land is topographically pretty vertical — not conducive to biking. That’s why we had no significant motorcycle opposition. Washington’s other remaining Wilderness candidate areas will be different.”

May 9. Bush signs Wild Sky wilderness bill in Washington state. By Matthew Daly.  Associated Press Writer






  1. Nathan Avatar

    I think its time we change policy about wilderness areas and get mountain bikers on board with us in these pristine areas. I do not know the details but I am sure with the land being close to Seattle and easily accesable that a good deal of currently existing mountain bike trails are being locked up and restricted to hikers wheelchairs and horses.

    Leaving the HUGE group of avid mountain bikers who care about the environment out of the picture is a bad step. We pit them with the groups who often fight against us and the creation of wilderness areas while many of them (the mountain bikers) would agree more with us than against us if they could simply be allowed on trails!

    The only thing keeping me from personally supporting wilderness areas and foundations that help bring them into existence is my love for mountain biking.

    I just don’t think its fair that in order to cover a great deal of distance in a wilderness area in a decent amount of time you have to own a sizable piece of land, a horse, a large truck, a large trailer ect ect…What about us who live in a apartment and have a two wheeled non motorized form of forest transportation?

    You cant tell me that horses don’t have a negative impact on land either, they bring foreign invasive plants in the area can damage stream crossings dump smelly poop all over trails used by others, they are not a no impact activity in the back country.

    So whats the deal with mountain bikes?

  2. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Nathan, bikes are mechanical devices.

    I do not think we should support mechanized transportation in designated wilderness areas.

    Nathan, bike on National Forests but when you come to designated wilderness, why not leave your bike behind and just hike. This seems reasonable.

    We probably shouldn’t turn this thread into a discussion about mountain biking in designated wilderness, though.

    Mack P. Bray
    Wildlife Watchers

  3. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    A common mistake when mountain bikers argue that we should be allowed to ride in a wilderness area is comparing the impact of a mountain bike compared to horses or hikers. While the Wilderness Act does mention these areas as “untrammeled by man,” the impact of the various means of getting around a given wilderness area is NOT the test that deems that mode acceptable. As Mack said, it is the fact that mountain bikes are mechanical devices, which are expressly prohibited by the Act.

    Another common issue that mountain bikers bring up is that Wilderness excludes them. Well, it doesn’t. We can walk. It does exclude our bikes. But that’s the great thing about Wilderness is that it does not exclude ANYONE. It just excludes certain kinds of uses, which, in my opinion, is appropriate. Nowhere in the Act does it state anything about fairness in covering large amounts of ground. In fact I’d say one of the purposes of the Act is to slow people down a bit! And I am a mountain biker as well as a hiker, for what it’s worth.

    Great news on this legislation being passed. Let’s hope that some Idaho designations follow. (So much for not turning this thread into a debate on mountain bikes, but maybe while we are at it, we can debate the merits of pending Idaho Wilderness designations – always a rather sporty subject around here.)

  4. Alan Sachanowski Avatar

    “Opponents fought the designation as unnecessary to protect the land,……
    “Really, what it’s doing is locking up land,” {presumably from development} said Roxanne Husmann, a Snohomish County apple orchardist.”
    Opponents of wilderness always use these two arguments, and it’s amazing how the second one proves the first one wrong.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’d never thought before how the second statement negates the first one. That’s a real gem for my thinking today!

  6. Brian Ertz Avatar


    if you’ve got access to the all the maps and docs about land acquisition/trades/$buyouts$ and changes regarding public land sell-offs and scenic rivers from the previous Owyhee bill to the current one – could you send them my way ? the current ones ?

    the public is not being given access to the details.

    i hope you’ll follow up and email them my way.

  7. Nathan Avatar

    Ill post my reply and hold it at that, if anyone knows of a better place to take this discussion by all means please advise.

    Why dont you Mack and Matt tie your horse up at the gate to a wilderness area as well, and why dont you ride your horse along the dusty over ran cattle trod, motorcycle infested trails called UFS roads that mountain bikers are most often confined to.

    Tell me what has the horse owner done for wilderness areas that a mountain biker has not done that gives him the right to take his horse into the back country? as far as I see it, the ‘Horse’ was grandfathered in.

    Mountain bikes are low impact, low speed, zero noise, zero carbon footprint devices of human transportation. In addition they also command a huge group of a young and upcoming generation like myself that we could sure use on our side in this war out here.

    so really i want some scientific reasons not the park your bike at the gate because its ‘mechanized’ that terminology was used to prevent mechanized horse powered tools from entering into the areas. The policy precedes the uprise of the mountain bike and it needs to be reevaluated.

    its an unfair policy that is going to leave many ‘at the gate’ so to speak when it comes to support of wilderness areas.

    Given the popularity and strength of foundations such as the blue ribbion coalition and other motorized access foundations leaving the mountain biker behind is not a wise idea if you want to create more Wilderness designated areas they need all the political support they can get.

    So really lets all ride together on this one. Or lets both walk.

  8. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    It is indeed unfortunate, that by the actions of a few on a Mountain Bike, the Majority will suffer, in many areas here in Montana, you used to be able to ride your mountain bikes, but due to the reckless actions by a few of the Mountain Bikers, they are starting to be cut off in areas.

    I, myself received a broken arm while hiking a couple of years ago, due to high speed downhill mt bikers, on a blind corner, they were not riding safely and hit me coming around a corner, knocked me over and one with a larger individual on it, ran over my arm, we were about 25 miles from the nearest services, I can tell you the hike out to the car which was about 3 miles was not a pleasure.

    If we changes the rules to let Mt. bikes in wilderness areas, then what is to stop, other groups lobbying for access?

    But I will say, after my experience, Mt. Biking was not a “Low Impact” activity to me!

  9. JB Avatar


    Mack already stated the reason why mountain bikers are not allowed in the wilderness–it is mechanized recreation. As I’m sure you already know, there is no reason to disallow mountain biking based on scientifically demonstrated impacts to the environment–horses are much harder on trails.

    ‘Save Bears’ experience gets to the heart of why mountain biking is inconsistent with the Act’s definition of Wilderness (see below). Most people know the “untrammeled by man” portion of the definition of Wilderness. What they forget is that the Wilderness must contain “outstanding opportunities for solitude.” This gets operationalized by the agencies (FS, NPS) as a certain number of visitor-groups per day in a particular area. Now, when people are on foot (especially with a pack) they move around pretty slowly and don’t generally come into contact with one another (opportunity for solitude). If you start allowing mountain bike in the Wilderness, a single biker could pass every person/group out on a particular trail in a relatively short amount of time, thus diminishing their opportunities for solitude; allow multiple mountain bikers, and hikers on the trail may have many contacts with others, greatly diminishing their opportunities for experience solitude.


    Definition of Wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964:

    (c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this chapter an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

  10. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Nathan, We have some local mountain bikers who have aligned themselves with the blue Ribbon Coalition for the reasons that you state. If that group better represents your interests, who am I or anyone else to stop you from joining them? I’d think long and hard about what they represent and what they have done before joining their ranks, though. In my opinion, the folks that I’m referring to did more harm than good for our local mountain bike community by aligning themselves with that particular group.

    In my opinion, there are still plenty of amazing places to ride my bike that give me all of the things that the Wilderness Act provides, just not in Wilderness areas. I’m sure that you’ll still be able to find plenty of places to ride near Seattle if the President signs this bill.

    This is an unfortunate and divisive issue for mountain bikers. Locally, it has been overcome by focusing on what we agree upon, which tends to keep the local mountain bike advocacy group focused on local (closer to Boise) issues. Where mountain bikers have been a positive influence on Wilderness legislation is by involving themselves in the process not from an anti-Wilderness perspective but more constructively by lobbying for certain trails to be left out so as to ensure continued access for mountain bikers. This could yield positive results, in my opinion, in one area in central Idaho where a popular mountain bike trail is adjacent to but not included in a proposed Wilderness area. Of course this does not make everyone happy (some people on this forum), but I thought that in that particular case, it was a worthy compromise.

    Brian, of course I don’t have the documents that you mention, but I think that is your point. Well, point taken, but in this case it doesn’t change my mind, but I don’t have the energy to get into it with you on this one.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’d say conservation of the roadless areas, of which there are about 12-million acres in Idaho counting the BLM roadless, is a place for mountain biking in a challenging setting.

    In addition, many of the most popular trails or routes are in areas that are roaded and don’t qualify for Wilderness designation.

  12. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Nathan I too have wished at times that wilderness areas allowed Mountain bikes because of the kind of biking I do, which is that I never ride faster than about 5 miles and hour because I would fall off. . because I track from a bike. For me it is a way to cover more trail than I can walking to see more tracks. However, I also agree with those who see bikes as a menace. Unfortuantely for me, that is not the way all mouantin bikers treat the terrian. Just like hunting, not all mountain bikers are not created equally. That said, I would like to offer you a thought I had on bikes. They are excluded because they are mechanical. Theoritically this would exclude kayaks, canoes, saddles, bridles, backpacks with zippers, cameras, etc. etc. Instead of fighting that designation perhaps we should work for areas where “personal power” devices are allowed and not motorized ones. One of the reasons I ride is to get beyond the human traffic so I can see animals. . in order to do that I ride slow and stealthy. I don’t ride in wilderness areas but I have found a bike a good way to get to parts of it that I can’t by car. The edges of the wilderness area that have no motorized traffic because they are too rough for vehicles are particularly interesting for animal observations. What I hope is that in the future we could designate areas where there are “personal power” only devices allowed. Wheel chairs, bikes, kayaks, canoes and things you have to put physical effort into that are quiet and clean. It doesn’t have to be a wilderness area, but perhaps it could be a buffer around a wildernss area. That might be a great goal to work for. For the animal’s sakes alone this could be a huge benefit. This would make the wilderness area inside a bubble of further protection. I envision trailheads which penetrate the bublble to hiking areas for hikers to get beyond the personal power device area and in enough spots so all the hiikers are not concentrated. I think the whole reason wilderness area is so attractive to mountain biking is the possiblity of riding where you won’t run into a motorized vehicle. A personal power only designation would solve that. Mountain bikers are not happy being lumped into areas where an ORV can run you down. or you ride a long ways into what you think is solitude to find some guys in a pickup truck shooting at cans.

    I don’t know anything about the area they are considering yet, but I will look it up.

  13. Brian Ertz Avatar

    i like this, back door deals for wilderness in idaho ~ this political ‘compromising’ wilderness designation appears to be quite the slippery slope ~ “partially grazed wilderness” eh ? (Little Jacks) that’s simplot stock on “wilderness” and the fences to boot. how about the Wilderness Study Areas – protected now, but released to industrial exploitation w/ the bill (Sheep Creek East & West WSAs, Bruneau Sheep Creek WSA, Jarbidge WSA). This is critical sage grouse habitat. several hundred miles of additional fencing ?

    these are “compromises” — and now we find out that the transparency of the process is another “compromise” we need to make to acquire the coveted ‘wilderness’ block lettering on a map – we’re expected to sit in the dark ? this is not right matt. it’s not right. now matt says :

    but maybe while we are at it, we can debate the merits of pending Idaho Wilderness designations

    and then as soon as somebody knows a little something about it matt says :

    Brian, of course I don’t have the documents that you mention, but I think that is your point. Well, point taken, but in this case it doesn’t change my mind, but I don’t have the energy to get into it with you on this one. [emphasis mine]

    I’m happy to debate the merits of the Idaho wilderness designations matt, but in this case the public is not being given access to the details – how are we supposed to debate the merits ? That sends the message: you guys don’t want to debate the merits – you want the block lettering ‘wilderness’ on the map… the merits of wildlife habitat benefits (or allowable (via compromises made) degradation) be-damned – and if you maintain support even in this case where the basic democratic principle of transparency becomes another victim of the political compromise then i don’t know what to tell you. i literally have no way of knowing what to tell you (the merits are behind closed doors).

    matt, you don’t have the documents on you – but i believe that you can get them – and i am asking you, as a matter of maintaining the merit and integrity of the process – (if these compromises are truly worth it – then they will survive public critique & the day of light and the bill may end up better for it) – to extend the good faith of making those phone calls and emailing me all of those details so that we can begin to bring this conversation around to the merits of the wilderness designation.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan