The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) brought some early Christmas presents to the mountain biking community at the expense of wilderness.

Buried in the Act was a boundary adjustment to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness of New Mexico. The existing boundary was put  into place 50 years ago with the signing of the Wilderness Act. Since mountain biking (and any mechanical advantage) is not permitted in official Wilderness, technically mountain bikes are excluded from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.

Approximately a mile of trail was removed from the wilderness protection to allow legal access (mountain bikers had already been illegally using the trail). The deletion of wilderness status allows the creation of a 15 mile long trail, much of it above 10,000 feet, that links the East Fork to Lost Lake and Middle Fork drainages to create what biking enthusiasts describe as a “ripping-fast single track”.

The change in the wilderness boundary was part of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act that permanently protects 45,000 acres of the Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico near Taos. The Columbine-Hondo was a wilderness study area since 1980.

Mountain bikers in the area consider this a small concession to balance out the loss of 75 trails they were using in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area. But that attitude is part of the problem created by the Forest Service’s lax approach to mountain biking in the WSA (as they do nearly everywhere else).  Instead of banning bikes from WSAs as they should, the agency allows this incompatible use to flourish, thus creating a constituency that frequently opposes new wilderness designations.

This was not the only concession to mountain bikers in the NDAA. The proposed boundary of a 22,000 acre addition to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was also adjusted to accommodate mountain bike use along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

Similar exclusions and revisions to wilderness proposals in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness in Colorado. The original roadless area was more than 148,000 acres, and for decades conservationists had sought to protect about 100,000 acres as wilderness. However, due to active opposition from mountain bikers, the wilderness boundaries were shrunk to 37,000 acres with 70,000 acres being designated a “Special Management Area” to permit mountain biking to continue.

Mountain biking also played a part in the designation of the 208,000 acre Conservation Management Area in Montana along the Rocky Mountain Front. Much of this area was assigned the highest wilderness qualities of any lands in the lower 48 states during the Forest Service Roadless Areas Review Evaluation.

Yet due to opposition to wilderness designation from mountain bikers, along with other interests like ATVs, loggers, ranchers, etc., some of the most outstanding wildlands in the lower 48 will not garner the protection of wilderness designation. The legislation creating the Conservation Management Area also specifically directs the Forest Service to study expanding mountain biking in this area, likely foreclosing forever the opportunity to designate this area as wilderness in the future.

In the Boulder White Cloud (BWC) proposed wilderness in Idaho, mountain bikers managed to get specific trails that traverse the heart of the range (and wilderness proposal) excluded from any wilderness legislation. Unless this is voided by Congress if and when the BWC obtain some protection, these trails will fragment and diminish the wildlands quality. At least in the BWC, the existing proposal calls for allowing mechanical trail maintenance equipment use like bobcat tractors and of course chain saws.

Not all mountain bikers are wilderness opponents. Indeed, it is the most aggressive bikers who lead the opposition. Many mountain bikers are content to ride roads and trails outside of any existing or proposed wilderness. As this quote here in a guest commentary in the Denver Post demonstrates, some mountain bikers understand why we need wilderness free of bikes.  Dennis Coello, author of “The Complete Mountain Biker,” says, “In this day of man’s increasingly mechanical approach to the outdoors, when thousands experience nature not for what it is through observation but as a playground, there aren’t many places left where one is guaranteed one won’t be run over by a Jeep or snowmobile or mountain bike. Preserving those [wilderness] areas ­ at the cost of a disgruntled few seems worth the price.”

I wish more mountain bike organizations shared Coello’s perspective. Unfortunately most leaders for organizations like the International Mountain Biking Association, along with local biking groups, are among the most dedicated and aggressive mountain bikers. This group lobbies ceaselessly to open more public land to mountain bike access. Unless conservationists start organizing soon, we will eventually see far fewer acres being given the gold standard of wilderness protection.

I do not object to mountain biking as an activity—in appropriate locations. But our remaining wildlands are increasingly under assault from a wide range of impacts—not only the traditional industrial sources like mining, oil/gas, agriculture, ranching, and logging, but also increasingly from a variety of recreation pursuits as well.  Wilderness designation is about more than just human recreational opportunities. These lands are places we set aside for the “others”, the creatures that require natural places that are protected from human intrusion and manipulation.

Wilderness also has symbolic value. These places represent places that we have set aside as a matter of self-restraint and ethical consideration for the rest of Earth’s diversity and lifeforms.


About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

84 Responses to Mountain Biking Inroads into Wilderness Legislation

  1. Barb Rupers says:

    In so many environmental arenas, as David Brower said, every win is temporary, every loss permanent.

  2. Larry says:

    I am sure we will have to put up with the BUZZ of drones replacing the sound of silence or the sounds of nature busy being nature. It’s all about self-restraint. Enough of this, “I want it, I want it now and I want it all.” It all comes down to political prowess and if we don’t get a president, and soon, that emulates Theodore Roosevelt we will reach the tipping point even more than we are now.

    • John Fisch says:

      The “I want it all” position is best represented by the hiker/equestrian/anti bike crowd. In our western states, bikes are restricted from 50-80% of roadless areas by Wilderness designation alone. This doesn’t count other USFS, BLM, NP, and other local municipality closures. Add to that the many trails that start and end outside Wilderness, but some portion passes within wilderness, making them nonviable as cycling routes. Add to all that the WSAs that ban bikes. All this in spite of the overwhelming research indicates cycling has no greater impact on the land than hikers and far less than horses, and no greater impact on wildlife than either hikers and horses. Despite the science, despite the common sense, despite the lack of fairness, hikers, who have access to 100% accuse bikers, who have access to so much less, as being selfish or “wanting it all.”

      • John Fisch: (1) Junk science written by mountain bikers is not a reliable source of information. Predictably, it systematically underestimates bike impacts, e.g. by completely ignoring distance travelled! (2) You aren’t telling the truth about “fairness”. Mountain bikers have EXACTLY the same access to trails that everyone else has: 100%. Only BIKES have less access. But they aren’t human, and don’t have rights. DUH! To say that you don’t have access to 100% of the trails is just a LIE. You CAN walk, can’t you???

        • John Fisch says:

          “Junk science written by mountain bikers is not a reliable source of information.”
          The most often quoted study on soil impact was not written by mountain bikers–in fact, it was commissioned by the USFS.

          “Mountain bikers have EXACTLY the same access to trails that everyone else has: 100%.”
          Hikers have access to 100% of their most desired lands by their preferred method of locomotion. Bikers have access to 20 – 50% of their most desired lands by their equally/less impactful desired form of locomotion. This a disparity no matter how you try to rationalize it away.

          To see the fallacy of your argument, simply flip the coin. Imagine that 80% of roadless areas in Colorado were designated as cycling only–no hikers. Would hikers then simply say “That’s okay, I have the same access as everyone else?”

      • Larry says:

        Try to think of it as, ‘you have a voice box so you should be able to talk all during the movie while sitting next to me’. One either has a respect for wilderness for what it is, a natural place left for the natural processes to slowly turn their gears, or one doesn’t. As Yogi Berra said, “Some people, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ’em”.

        • KDXsteve says:


          Your assumption is that biking is less respectful to nature than hiking. What justification do you have for such an assumption? Why do you think biking affects “natural process” but hiking does not? Just because bikers upset you does not mean that bikers upset nature.

  3. Jay says:

    The article is extremely biased towards the authors own personal opinions, uses rich adjectives to magnify and misrepresent the impacts of Mountain biking, along with misrepresenting the intentions of the IMBA as devious,evil, and selfish. The truth remains that mountain bikers as a whole are very active in conservation efforts, do more trail maintenance work than any other outdoor advocacy group, and are not opposed to wilderness areas that ban the use of bikes completely. Painting such a skewed and negative picture says much more about the author than anything else.

    • “The truth remains that mountain bikers as a whole are very active in conservation efforts, do more trail maintenance work than any other outdoor advocacy group, and are not opposed to wilderness areas that ban the use of bikes completely”. Hogwash. The ONLY thing that mountain bikers act to conserve is bicycle access. Trail maintenance is not conservation! We aren’t talking about trail conservation, but WILDLIFE conservation. Trail maintenance, like trail construction, destroys habitat and prevents the wildlife from using the area. And IMBA and mountain bikers are EXTREMELY selfish. They destroy Wilderness and ride in it illegally. They NEVER actively support Wilderness designation. Instead, they whine until the Wilderness area is whittled down to their liking. They are no different in that respect from the oil companies!

      • KDXsteve says:

        How do trails destroy habitat? If you are saying that a dirt path through the woods causes species to die then you seem to have a very poor understanding of nature. Also, humans are part of nature and have been for thousands of years. Is not the forceful exclusion of humans just as unnatural as the forceful exclusion of any other species?

    • Larry says:

      “Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.” — Rachel Carson.

      It seems to me that mountain biking in designated wilderness and national parks is like playing tackle football in a historical museum. There is probably a place for all activities but not all places are for all activities.

      How many streams must fill with silt, how many meadows must fill with ruts before we can say to ourselves, enough- even for me. When we can master self restraint we have won.

      • Mike Daley says:

        Very well stated.

        I mountain bike on fire roads, but will NOT do single track, and when I led bike rides for the Sierra Club I gave a little speech about off pavement bicycling ethics. (Slow, careful; RESPECT the other users, especially the most vulnerable!…)

        I’m a slow and steady, let’s have fun biker even on paved roads, so I would politely tell folks who thought they needed an adrenalin rush from going fast to go on their own that this wasn’t the ride for them.

      • John Fisch says:

        You need to do some research into the effects caused by various trail users. Cycling has been proven to have no more effect than hiking and far less than horses. To the extent that self restraint is required, it is required of all, not just one equally or lesser impactful user group.

        • John Fisch: If you would actually READ that so-called “research”, you would see that it is full of holes and doesn’t support what you say it does. It’s pretty obvious that knobby tires at 10+ MPH are going to do more damage than a hiker. Mountain bikers continually claim to be discriminated against, but there is NO discrimination, since the EXACT same rules apply to everyone. You can’t bring your bike into Wilderness, and I can’t, either. So where is the discrimination???

        • Mike Daley says:

          Happy to read any citations you or Mr. Vandeman (or any other readers) wish to provide.

          LOGIC tells me that I can access more area per hour on my vehicle than on foot.

          ONLY SCIENCE will tell me whether my travel by vehicle is less damaging per hour than my travel by foot.

          I am willing to be corrected by science, as always. (Long ago–sometime after college–I gave up reasoning that because the world SHOULD be a certain way, it actually IS or will easily become that way.)


          A person who rides a mountain bike.

          (Just as disabled people have reframed their labeling, sometimes people who ride bicycles need to do the same, IMHO.)

          • The problem is that the research done by mountain bikers is biased. Their conclusions (favorable to mountain biking) don’t follow from their own data. But unless you understand the scientific method (or logic?), you won’t know how to interpret the research. See for an analysis of the best available research. This paper has been presented at several scientific conferences, and none of the scientists has ever found anything wrong with it.

      • KDXsteve says:


        Had you spent any time in nature you would realize that streams with silt is natural, especially after heavy rains, and meadows get trampled by foraging animals. Land is constantly changing naturally through erosion slowly and quickly (natural floods can change the landscape severely). Considering all that, what is the evil of a singletrack trail?

  4. Garry Rogers says:

    George, I appreciate your work on this subject. I posted it along with this comment:
    Humans have become so numerous, that most forms of outdoor recreation are harmful to habitats and wildlife. “The . . . recreationist has peculiarities that contribute in subtle ways to his own undoing. To enjoy he must possess, invade, appropriate. Hence, the wilderness that he cannot personally see has no value to him. Hence the universal assumption that an unused hinterland is rendering no service to society. To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part” (Leopold 1949: 176).

    • Mike Daley says:


      I’m not anti-mountain bike as I own and use one. And politically, many wilderness supporters have learned to be careful to make common cause with people with whom you might disagree–cooperation between hunters, fishers, and others has helped advance the environmental cause in a number of cases.

      However, there are now over 7 BILLION of us, and increasing FAST.

      Responsible wilderness users need to be cognizant of our impact. I do damage with my hiking shoes, I don’t deny that. If I was a prolific hiker, I might be able to do as much damage as I do on my mountain bike. But I’m not, and I CANNOT.

      Almost any normal person will cover many more miles on a bike than on foot, and hence do more damage than otherwise.

      For political reasons, I DO NOT oppose all single track use, though I would never do it myself for safety reasons (mine and others.)

      Wilderness mountain biking is “like tackle football in a museum,” in my opinion.

      And PLEASE don’t anyone bring up people with disabilities. Exceptions only prove rules, they aren’t the basis for them.

      If someone needs a wheeled vehicle to access as many miles as they would walk a given amount of time, let’s create a special permit for that person, NOT open up wilderness areas to mechanical transport for all and sundry! (Human-powered, but still mechanical.)

      • Wilderness Watch published a newsletter years ago containing four articles by people with disabilities, ALL arguing that wilderness not be made “accessible”, since it would then no longer be wilderness. The wildlife, of course, applauded.

        • Mike Daley says:


          I also applaud those four people who have disabilities and want the wilderness protected, as I applaud those mountain bikers who want the wilderness protected. However, they don’t speak for ALL people with disabilities, anymore than I speak for all mountain bikers, obviously and unfortunately, IMHO.

          Fortunately, the SMALL exception made for people with disabilities will, I’m guessing, have no more impact than the other technological concessions that we make to allow folks into wilderness, such as the red herrings that Mr. Abrams throws out below.

          Unfortunately, you and I are not as frequently political allies as we could be. The reason, I believe, is due to responses like this. We have different approaches to compromise.

          To quote someone I admire very much, but disagree with here:

          “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”*

          My response?

          Except that in a democracy it loses elections.

          * The late Senator Barry Goldwater during his massively unsuccessful presidential campaign.

          Bill Clinton’s corollary response: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

          • We may need to compromise “on the ground”. But I see no reason to compromise on telling the truth. In that sense, I believe in (real) science.

            • Ida Lupines says:

              Mr. Vandeman, glad you are back – your rebuttals are pure joy to read. I haven’t had much of a chance to comment on this issue, but it is extremely disappointing to see our wildlands being chipped away at for yet another self-centered human use, ‘ripping-fast single track’.

            • KDXsteve says:

              Here is a fact to chew on. Hiking trails need to be minimum of 2 ft wide. Bikes can travel easily in 1 ft wide trials. Which has more exposed topsoil?

  5. Dave says:

    Your assumption that mt bikes be banned in all WSAs is ignorant. Having established well designed well maintained trails protect rather than destroy habitats. Where I come from the mt bikers all are sensitive to, and respect the environment more than folks behind a desk and a keyboard.

    • “Having established well designed well maintained trails protect rather than destroy habitats”. Hogwash. A trail IS destroyed habitat. And more habitat is destroyed when there are people on the trail, because they drive the wildlife away and make the habitat unusable. Many mountain bikers even ride at night, extending the habitat destruction even into the night, when many animals would like to be out. You need to take a class in basic biology.

      • KDXsteve says:

        I am not aware of anybody who hunts on a mountain bike. Animals seem to understand this and I encounter far more wildlife on my bike than I do while hiking. In addition, the wildlife I encounter seem less skittish when I’m on my bike.

        I don’t know what your problem is that you never see wildlife. I frequently see wildlife while on trails and they seem comfortable as long as they are some distance away. I’ve seen deer that were content at a distance of only 20 yards.

        Why do you suppose biking at night is more disruptive than hiking at night?

    • Larry says:

      I wonder what the definition of respect for the environment would actually be if ….

      The tiny bits of informative science that we learn from our own observations and from so many others only tells me that I have an infinite way to go to know what it means to show total respect for the environment. Nature goes slow. I wonder if that’s the earth trying to teach us something? Wilderness areas are one place that speed is not compatible.

      • Respect is not rocket science. We are born with a capacity for empathy. We simply choose to ignore it, when it concerns other species, because it reveals “inconvenient truths”. Common sense tells us that we should leave the wildlife alone – COMPLETELY alone! Why is this so hard for people – including biologists, who should know better – to grasp???

      • John Fisch says:

        “Wilderness areas are one place that speed is not compatible.”

        And yet an equestrian may gallop his horse faster than I ride a bike. What do we do–ban horses as well?

        I have been passed by trail runners while on my bike.

        Every summer, people set out to establish a new speed record for covering the entire Pacific Crest Trail (which is closed to bikes) in the shortest amount of time.

        • John Fisch: What are you saying? “Runners can go fast, so we should be allowed to do so also”? A mountain biker (1) can go much faster than any runner, and (2) will do a lot more damage while going fast, whether or not they run into someone. Is this what you want to see on our wilderness trails?!: I don’t think anyone here is advocating speed on trails.

        • Kathleen says:

          “What do we do–ban horses as well?”
          Horses are not ‘mechanical transport.’ Regardless of one’s personal preference, there are no speed limits in designated wilderness. Speed isn’t the issue. The Wilderness Act is the law of the land.

          • John Fisch says:

            I agree there are no speed limits. The whole point of the post was that the speed issue is not a valid one for banning mountain bikes.

            As for the “law of the land,” the original Wilderness Act did not ban bikes–that was changed when the USFS changed their interpretation of the act in response to a well funded and organized/unopposed anti bike lobby. There are other forms of “mechanical transport” allowed in Wilderness. Also, the original verbiage of the Act was clear in it’s desire to keep out motorized vehicles and the infrastructure necessary to sustain them. The goals were 1. preservation (bikes affect this no more than hikers and less than horses), 2. to get Americans out of their cars and enjoying their wild places under their own power (bikes certainly qualify, and again more so than horses)and 3. to prevent the sort of permanent man made roads and structures which “dominate the landscape” (bikes need no more infrastructure than a simple trail, same as a hiker).

      • KDXsteve says:

        Nature can also move very quickly and violently. Mt. St. Helens, floods, forest fires are all some examples of natural disruption.

  6. George: “I do not object to mountain biking as an activity — in appropriate locations.” The only appropriate location is on paved roads.

    Garry: There are no blank places on the map, although there should be. We need to restore “terra incognita”.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video:

    In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: .

    For more information: .

    The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users — hikers and equestrians — who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

    The parks aren’t gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

    Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won’t understand what I am talking about — an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

  7. Rick McGuire says:

    Great article. Too many people, including not just mountain bikers but hikers too, ask only “what’s in it for me?” rather then “what can I do for wild country.” Sad.

    One minor point: the article makes it sound like the NDAA removed the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trial from the Alpine Lakes additions Wilderness proposal. It did not. That trail corridor was never in the proposal.

    A deal was struck many years ago between conservationists and mountain bikers, wherein conservationists agreed to support mountain bikes on the Middle Fork trail (which had previously been closed to them,) and the mountain bikers agreed to support Wilderness designation for the lowland forests of the nearby Pratt River valley, and the portion of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie downstream from the trail that was opened to them (on an every other day basis.)

    It was a success. While it did let mountain bikes on to a trail where perhaps they might have been kept out, the actual loss of area to the Wilderness proposal was very small, since the trail runs along the edge of what was considered. The mountain bikers got to use a trail they had been wanting for years, and they did indeed support the Wilderness proposal as promised.

    We are lucky here, in the Cascades east of Seattle that we have plenty of terrain to work with, and relations between all recreation users are generally amicable. A top priority for many of us is to preserve trailless, “core security habitat.” Or in other words, those “blank spots on the map” where few people go and wildlife can find some undisturbed refuge.

    Fortunately, we have a goodly amount of that kind of country. Many of the high ridges seen in the distance from Seattle have hardly had a human visitor in years. They should stay that way. We’re trying to put new trails in areas that intrude as little as possible into those un-trailed areas, and so far we are doing pretty well.

    We don’t need to carve trails across the whole landscape, whether for bikes or hikers. Big parts of it should simply be left alone. Ask not what the Cascades can do for you, ask what you can do for the Cascades.

    • “The actual loss of area to the Wilderness proposal was very small, since the trail runs along the edge of what was considered.” That is a common, almost universal, misconception about trails: that they affect only the footprint of the trail itself. Actually, wildlife are impacted in a wide swath to both sides of the trail. For example, grizzlies can hear humans up to a mile away, and smell them up to five miles away, per Ed Grumbine (Ghost Bears). The problem of mountain biking is not just the conflicts between people! Mountain biking destroys a huge amount of habitat, when you consider their indirect effects and trail-building craze (legal and illegal). They travel so fast that they don’t really experience anything they are passing, quickly get bored with any given trail, and then want more and more and more. Bikes just don’t belong on trails. They should be restricted to paved roads, where they can’t do much harm!

      • rork says:

        I hate mountain bikers almost as much as you, but paved road only is way over the top, and makes you seem nutty. In Michigan we let cars use the public gravel and dirt roads – call us crazy. “don’t really experience” may not be fair either – it’s speculating about people’s internal mental states, and would require an inquisition to determine (joggers and folks walking without being able to pass my natural history test which includes plant and shroom identification, beware!). I’m not saying there’s no difference. but that would just be on average.

        • I don’t hate mountain bikers. I oppose mountain BIKING. Riding on pavement was the norm before about 1984 (what a coincidence!), so it is quite realistic. “Experiencing” nature at 15 MPH while trying to control a bike over random obstacles is physically impossible. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Just watch one of their helmet cam videos and see how much of the scenery you remember!

          • John Fisch says:

            The “My way is the only way to enjoy the outdoors” argument is tired, elitist, and the most selfish of all.

            Do you also wish to ban equestrians, who can cover more ground, faster than a cyclist? At least the cyclist is riding under his own power and limited by his own fitness and preparedness, unlike the cyclist who can traverse great expanses quickly regardless of skill and respect for the outdoors. Furthermore, the hiker and especially the equestrian can more easily carry the goods necessary to remain in the backcountry (tent, sleeping bag, food, etc). Among all backcountry users, cyclists are by far the least likely to actually establish a presence there.

            • John Fisch: I’m not promoting any recreational activity. I’m just saying that banning bikes is good for the wildlife and other trail users, and reduces human impacts. That’s the same as the purpose of Wilderness: to protect the natural world. Mountain bikers are interested in speed and thrills, which they can get in less harmful ways such as riding on pavement. Instead, they selfishly force their MACHINERY on the majority of trail users, ruining their experience of the wilderness. There’s only one solution to this problem, which is to restrict bikes to paved roads. Every other option is unfair to the MAJORITY.

      • Rick McGuire says:

        I agree – but what, realistically, do we do? Most people care only about what’s in it for them. We need to find places for them to go. Less damaging is better than more damaging.

        There are those out there, some of them quite vocal, who claim that the whole system of protected public lands will collapse if they don’t get what they want. That is hogwash, but there is some truth to the argument that providing attractive places for recreation does help to support the cause of keeping some places wild.

        I’d rather find a bunch of places on the edges of those big blank spots on the map to put trails in, while hopefully keeping the blank spots at least mostly blank. We are lucky to have a set of (mostly,) enlightened land managers here (near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness,) who seem to understand that. I know that’s not the case in many other places. Good luck in working to make it so.

        • Ed Loosli says:

          you wrote: “I’d rather find a bunch of places on the edges of those big blank spots on the map to put trails in, while hopefully keeping the blank spots at least mostly blank.”

          This is all well and good, however, in the case of the latest “rider”, the biking lands are not on the edge of the Wilderness areas, they are carved out of the roadless areas themselves that actually should have been designated Wilderness, not bicycle fun zones. The blank spots just got smaller.

          The vast majority of the United States is open to bicycling – Leave something for the chipmunks and other critters.

          • John Fisch says:

            “Leave something for the chipmunks and other critters.”
            That only works if you keep hikers out as well. Studies show cycling disturbs wildlife no more than, and often less than, hiking. (most species are most wary of humans on foot as that’s who carry guns).

            Blank spaces are made less blank not by bikes, but rather by humans. All user groups should be treated in accordance with their relative level of impact and cycling has proven to be equally impactful as hiking and far less impactful than horseback riding.

            • John Fisch: “cycling has proven to be equally impactful as hiking and far less impactful than horseback riding”. That is false, and repeating it endlessly won’t make it true.

        • We may always have to compromise “on the ground”, but I don’t believe that we ever need to compromise on telling the truth. We need to fill in the missing information for the people who weren’t listening in biology class. Bicyclists were perfectly happy riding on the road for a hundred years. Then they discovered that wilderness wasn’t protected, so they could get away with poaching it. We owe such people NOTHING!

          • John Fisch says:

            For Mike Vandeman, who has been convicted of booby trapping trails with intent to cause serious bodily harm, to talk about “truth” is crazy. (for those of you who don’t know who he is, just google him and see what comes up)

            Truth–bikers are no more impactful than hikers and far less than equestrians.

  8. Ken Watts says:

    How do we address Americans with disabilities? No method of access.

  9. Gary Humbard says:

    Probably the main reason the Forest Service allows mountain bikes within wilderness study areas is that mountain bike groups do the majority of trail maintenance there. The Forest Service rely’s on these groups to keep the trails open and maintained and they monitor the maintenance work to make sure damage to the environment is minimal. Hikers do not have to climb over windfalls and many times hikers may not even see or hear bikers.

    I was hiking in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado (outside of WSA) in some of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen and met motor bikes. When I asked the FS why they allow motor bikes there, the answer was without these groups,these trails would not be maintained for all users. I will take meeting mountain bikes over motorcycles any day of the week.

    • Letting bikes into wilderness study areas is pure corruption! Those areas are supposed to remain unimpaired. Hikers don’t maintain trails because they don’t cause the damage that mountain biking does. Without bikes there, most of that “trail maintenance” would be unnecessary.

  10. Gary Humbard says:

    The author cited a few examples where mountain bikes are allowed inside WSAs, however, I wonder how many times they are excluded but are never mentioned.

    The author lives in central Oregon and should be aware that mountain bike organizations are supporting new wilderness areas near Waldo Lake (central Oregon) yet he didn’t mention it.–Shoshone-Forest-Plan/

    • “The new [Shoshone] forest plan proposes no new wilderness designations.” Mountain bikers ALWAYS oppose Wilderness designation when it would close any of their favorite trails.

      • John Fisch says:

        “Mountain bikers ALWAYS oppose Wilderness designation when it would close any of their favorite trails.”

        Because we don’t accept the false dilemma that there be Wilderness or wholesale destruction of precious wildlands. It is perfectly possible to protect our wild places without banning an equally low impact/less impactful user group.

  11. Cuyler Abrams says:

    As someone who strongly views E.O. Wilson’s 50% wilderness plan as necessary and who considers themselves an conservationist, I applaud every square inch of ground that receives wilderness protection.

    However, I find myself rolling my eyes at this article. Why? I also happen to be a mountain biker.

    First, and lets clear this up right away, IMBA and most mountain biking organizations (and dare I say, individuals) would be more than happy to have tons of land designated as wilderness IF the current interpretation of the wilderness act choose the type of impacts allowed on wilderness lands by their impact on said lands and not by historic accidents. Currently, horses can be used on wilderness land, either for recreational or in support of grazing. On top of that, current Wilderness designations allow for use of motorized vehicles in support of grazing. (See: ) These highly negative uses of the land are allowed under the current law while mountain biking, which was invented after the Act became law in 1964, is excluded. This is despite the fact mountain biking would impact wilderness lands less than horses, grazing or vehicle access. IMBA and mountain biking organizations consistently have asked one thing: allow a human powered means of access, namely, hiking and mountain biking. IMBA and mountain bikers have fought Wilderness designations where existing trails are threatened by their inclusion into Wilderness areas. (See: ) Had special provisions been made for existing trails IMBA and mountain bikers would have supported those Wilderness designations.

    Second, for all the whining about how mountain bikers have prevented acreage being added to wilderness areas, the fact of the matter is that IMBA has supported and teamed up conservation groups to protect thousands of acres of land. If you don’t think that is true, look at the signatories to letters of support to any of the lands you mentioned above. (Example: ) True, because the aforementioned issues with the Wilderness Act as it stands now, those areas cannot be called “Wilderness” as it’s defined by that Act. But they are protected as they weren’t before and are, for all intents and purposes wilderness. That is a win for the environment and for humanity as a whole. Let’s not lose sight of that.

    A true wilderness should be a place where no mechanical or industrial advantages exist. But that just can’t include advantages you happen to dislike, it has to be all of them. No horses, no cell phones or computers, no rubber-soled shoes, zippers, synthetic fabrics or firearms. Where humans can traverse them as humans have for millions of years: on foot with a sack and a spear. Where the survival instincts of our forefathers are kept fresh. But let’s be honest, 99.99% of those that advocate for wilderness would not be for that level of pre-civilization wilderness. So, then we have to pick and choose how much impact to wilderness we are willing to accept. Whether or not you like it, mountain bikes have less impact than horses on a trail (currently allowed in a Wilderness). Mountain bike trails and mountain biking certainly has less impact than the grazing of livestock or the roads used to support vehicles for grazing (also currently allowed in a Wilderness). So, is the issue with mountain biking and wilderness really about impacts or is it about trying to kneecap an activity you don’t like?

    Every time we, as persons that care for environment, get into a spat about exactly how we want to protect lands, someone at Kock Industries or Halliburton probably gets a bonus. We need to band together and push hard to protect massive amounts of land from exploitation by those who do not see the big picture of protecting the environment. The more time we argue about details, the more land that gets made less wild.

    There are those, like myself, that would like wilderness and national parks to be no-go zones for anything not powered by human legs or arms. No snowmobiles, cars, trucks or aircraft. No invasive species like horses or livestock. Others would like wildernesses to have a different level of impact. However, no matter the specifics, as long as the protections are put in place minimize human impact and preserve the land for future generations, we are all on the same side. Let’s not forget that.

    • Cuyler Abrams: (1) Horses are wildlife. They don’t damage nature, they ARE nature. The horse evolved in North America, and has the right to go wherever it wants to. BIKES have ZERO rights. By your argument, elephants should be banned from Africa, because they “damage” trees. (2) Your argument “horses do damage, so we should be allowed to do damage, too” is specious. It makes no sense. (3) You recommend minimizing damage. I agree. Banning bikes from all natural areas would greatly reduce human impacts. Bikes don’t belong in nature. They do nothing but harm. (4) IMBA doesn’t promote Wilderness. It only tolerates Wilderness proposed by others, and ONLY if mountain bikers get the access they want. IMBA gets its money from the mountain biking industry, and that is whom they serve, period. If mountain bikers would start telling the truth, they might get more respect.

      • John Fisch says:

        Horses do indeed damage trails and far more than bikes. Any statement to the contrary is a deliberate lie. If minimizing damage is the goal, horses should be banned first and hikers in equal measure with bikers.

      • KDXsteve says:

        What if I rode in on an elephant? Elephants are nature as well.

    • rork says:

      I’m with you about disallowing horses, lamas, dogs, so let’s work on making it more restrictive rather than less. I have never carried phones, computers or firearms, but am not in favor of banning them. Sorry, but I do carry binoculars – you’re getting silly in that paragraph.
      I have dealt with bikers many times in my area and have not noticed that we are on the same side on any issue yet. They have acquired and protected exactly zero acres in my area.

      • rork says:

        Should add: the reason we don’t agree about any issue is cause they only really have but the one – more access for bikes.

        • “The reason we don’t agree about any issue is cause they only really have but the one – more access for bikes.” AMEN!

        • Mike Daley says:

          Actually, this is the same class of mistake as that made by many car drivers in the “automobile driver” vs. “bicyclist” debate.

          “Mountain bikers” are not a subspecies of the species Homo Sapiens, and “they” include at least some folks who agree with both Rork and Mr. Vandeman.

          I’m not knowledgeable enough to argue the details, but wanted to point out the categorical fallacy.

          ON THE OTHER HAND,

          Culyer Abrams makes the two wrongs make a right fallacy.

          I LOVE riding my mountain/commute bike on fire trails! However, neither I nor any able bodied person who loves wilderness should be lobbying for mechanized access to wilderness.

          Banning cell phones is a red herring. (Less politely it is horse sh*t and I feel I should be wearing boots when reading some of Mr. Abrams’ post.)

          Yes, let’s ban horse not used for managing grazing, and dogs that are not service dogs (my two beagles sleep with me…:D, but are NEVER off leash in areas that are not fenced for dog use.)

          Much of the rest of Mr. Abrams post I do agree with however. People who both mountain bike and love wilderness should make common cause with people who don’t do the former but love the latter.

          As a former Sierra Club activities leader and local staff person, I can tell you that I have worked with other people who mountain bike (or hunt or fish or …) in common cause to protect open space and the environment. (I can’t speak to Wilderness areas specifically. Outside my area of expertise as a LOCAL staffer.)


  12. Maxmillion says:

    Well said, Cuyler. Very well said. (clap, clap, clap…)

  13. Ed Loosli says:

    Mountain bikes in Roadless and Wilderness areas of our public lands are the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Once they are well established where they are currently not allowed, someone will want to put one of those little electric motor boosters on their mountain bike…Then the motor-bike people will say, “if that’s ok how about us”…Then some of the motor-bike people will say, “if I had more horse-power it would be so much better” and so enters the motorcycles, soon to be followed by small ATVs, who’s drivers say, “Hay, if motorcycles can ride here, we should also be allowed” …And then of course come the full ATVs that can leap tall boulders in a single bound. I say NO to mountain bikes, because they will only lead to more trouble for our beleaguered natural Roadless and Wilderness lands. They’re not worth the trouble.

    • John Fisch says:

      The slippery slope argument is a common logical fallacy and most fallacious here. The key is that mountain bikes are human powered. In this regard, they have more place than the horse, which allows anybody regardless of fitness or knowledge to traverse the backcounty.

      • Kathleen says:

        I agree that the slippery slope argument is irrelevant here, and that’s because the Wilderness Act prohibits mechanical transport. Bicycles are mechanical transport.

        • Ed Loosli says:

          You do realize that the mountain bikers are trying their best to change the law of the Wilderness Act to allow human powered mechanical means of travel? I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as a “rider” in an upcoming must-pass bill.

        • John Fisch says:

          Bicycles were not “mechanical transport” per the useage of the phrase when the Act originated. All the verbiage at the time, in the congressional hearings leading to the Act, used “mechanized” to refer to automobiles, not human-powered machines. There are other forms of “mechanical transport” allowed in Wilderness (i.e. boats with oarlocks, cross country skis with pivoting toe pieces). The original verbiage of the Act was clear in it’s desire to keep out motorized vehicles and the infrastructure necessary to sustain them. The goals were 1. preservation (bikes affect this no more than hikers and less than horses), 2. to get Americans out of their cars and enjoying their wild places under their own power (bikes certainly qualify, and again more so than horses)and 3. to prevent the sort of permanent man made roads and structures which “dominate the landscape” (bikes need no more infrastructure than a simple trail, same as a hiker).

          • John Fisch: Now bikes aren’t “mechanical transport”? Shades of “1984” “doublespeak”. Pretty soon black will be white and white will be black. It is well known that the bicycle is the most efficient form of transportation known to man. It allows people who are too lazy to walk to gain access to hundreds of miles of trail with a minimum of effort. That is the source of their greatest harm: driving wildlife out of their habitat and denying them the resources that they need. Can you give one reason that bikes should be allowed in natural areas? I’ve been asking this for 20 years, and have yet to hear someone give a single good reason. Of course, that’s because there IS no good reason. Bikes just don’t belong on trails! It’s obvious to everyone except mountain bikers.

  14. monty says:

    In my lifetime the US population has increased from 120 to 315 million. The previous 3 to 4 generations of humans have probably consumed 30 to 40 generations of natural resources. Our birth rates and consumption habits are unsustainable. We are turning the earth into a vast urbanized human feedlot. And our 7th century religions continue to preach: “go forth and multiply”!

  15. Frank Sandpiper says:

    The idea that a relatively narrow (3′-4′) linear feature is somehow responsible for widespread degradation and calamity is preposterous. Vandeman provides no evidence for his claims that mountain biking is responsible for erosion acceleration, abandonment of the area by wildlife and other recreationists, and horrific impacts to vegetation and small wildlife. By the way, Google Mr. Vandemam and learn about his recent assault conviction.

    • Frank Sandpiper: Engaging in LIBEL only proves that you have no case. If you knew anything about biology, you would know that the impact of a trail is far greater than the destruction of animals and plants under foot, although that is quite harmful as well. The presence of people is always harmful to the wildlife, and mountain bikes increase the numbers of people and the distances that they are able to travel. I frequently hear of rides up to over 100 miles in a day. I’ve never hiked more than 15 miles in a day, and usually less than half of that. Mountain bikers also travel too fast for snakes, for example, to get out of their way. Not true for hikers.

  16. Ed Loosli says:

    I especially like Larry’s analogy; “It seems to me that mountain biking in designated wilderness and national parks is like playing tackle football in a historical museum. There is probably a place for all activities but not all places are for all activities.”
    The point is that the founders of the Wilderness System knew exactly what they were doing and we should be following their lead and upholding their long range vision of Wilderness without mechanical means of travel.

    • John Fisch says:

      Well, that’s half right. Certainly not all places are appropriate for all activities. However, the analogy is ridiculous. Mountain bikes have no more impact than hikers and far less than equestrians making that analogy ridiculous. It may disturb ones personal aesthetic, but in terms of actual impact, it holds no water whatsoever.

  17. T Lewis says:

    Wilderness advocates want Wilderness for all that it is, and they wish it to remain that way for future generations to enjoy. There are mtn bikers (self included) who are also Wilderness advocates, and they get that.

    Truth be told, there is no shortage of places to pursue our recreation.

    There are also mtn bikers who could care less about Wilderness. Pursuit of their sport is their #1 priority, even if it means diminishing Wilderness in the process.

    Reading the various posts, it is pretty easy to figure out who could care less about the integrity of Wilderness and other wild places.

    • Thanks. Too bad the anti-Wilderness mountain bikers are hogging the spotlight. You need to let them know that they aren’t doing your cause any good. In other words, they should shut up and LISTEN. They make all mountain bikers look bad.

  18. Barb Rupers says:

    This is a letter written to the Shoshone National Forest personnel regarding mountain bikes in the Dunoir Special Management Unit, Wyoming; also discusses cutting dead trees for biomass in national forests,and grizzlies at army cutworm moth feeding areas.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Barb Rupers,

      Did you see that the plan to let mountain bikes into the Dunoir Special Management Unit and into the Francs Peak roadless area has been overturned by the Washington office?


December 2014


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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