116 Conservation Groups Tell Congress: Keep Bikes out of Wilderness

Some mountain bikers are attempting to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act

MISSOULA, MONTANA – This week 116 conservation organizations from across America have asked Congress to oppose attempts to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act and Wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in designated Wilderness.

“For over a half century, the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas designated by Congress from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wildernesses have been kept free from bicycles and other types of mechanization and mechanical transport,” the 116 organizations wrote Congress.

A copy of the letter to Congress signed by 116 conservation groups is here: http://bit.ly/1VFoL1U

The letter to Congress comes as some mountain bikers and a mountain biking organization – the Sustainable Trails Coalition – have announced the intention to have legislation introduced in Congress to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in units of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

“These mountain bikers erroneously claim that mountain bikes were allowed in Wilderness until 1984, but then banned administratively by the U.S. Forest Service. This claim is simply not true,” pointed out the 116 conservation organizations.

“At a time when wilderness and wildlife are under increasing pressures from increasing populations, growing mechanization, and a rapidly changing climate, the last thing Wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch.

“Mountain bikes are exactly the kind of mechanical devices and mechanical transport that Congress intended to keep out of Wilderness in passing the Wilderness Act.  Mountain bikes have their place, but that place is not inside Wilderness areas,” explained Kevin Proescholdt, Conservation Director of Wilderness Watch.

“Last time I checked, a bicycle is a form of mechanized transportation,” said Brett Haverstick, Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “Shame on the mountain biking groups for putting their personal agendas ahead of one our nations most important public land laws.”

“We believe that this protection has served our nation well, and that the ‘benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness’ would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport in these areas. Please oppose attempts to weaken the Wilderness Act and wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in Wilderness,” the 116 organizations wrote Congress.




  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    The trouble with some mountain bikers is that they think a designated wilderness is only a kind of specialized recreation area, one in which they when in the role of a biker cannot participate.
    Most of the ones I know have a fuller knowledge of nature than it being a mere playground with competing interests.

  2. Jay Avatar

    Awaiting the idiotic comparison by the shredders between oarlocks on a raft and a modern mountain bike in 3, 2, 1…

  3. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    It would certainly detract from the qualities of wilderness if there were bikes on the trails.

    There are lots of trails on other public lands – why intrude into wilderness areas?

  4. Brett Haverstick Avatar

    When I think of Wilderness I think of restraint. Wilderness is not about “my desires” or “your needs.” It’s about humility, sacrifice and discipline. This attempt by mountain bike groups to weaken the Wilderness Act to appease their interests is a selfish display of everything that is wrong with America. It’s all about ME. Kudos to the 116 groups that sent the letter to Congress. And shame on the mountain bike groups that are trying to open Pandora’s Box by amending one of our nation’s greatest public land laws.

    1. Ashley Avatar

      We have a local mountain in our area that is heavily used by mountain bikers. Every month they have a trail day. These work days include rebuilding sections of damaged trail. Some sections of trail include “fun features” for a more challenging rides. These features detract from the trail for other users.

      The very need for multiple trail rebuild days speaks to the damage mountain bikes are capable of causing in a short period of time. Trail days do not put a bandaid on destroyed trails.

      “Recreation with restraint” should be our mantra in Wilderness. No bikes, period.

    2. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      So do I. +1!

  5. Wild rivers Avatar
    Wild rivers

    Hells Canyon has certain days that jet boats are allowed to operate on the river. What if mountain bikes were allowed in wilderness areas one day a week on average. During muddy times no bikes and in August, for instance, maybe 2 to 3 days a week they are allowed.

    Personally, it matters not to me, but I can see how allowing horses, but not allowing bikes could be construed as unfair.

    I have a much bigger problem with setting up camp with flies and horse crap, but to each there own I guess.

    1. Jay Avatar

      “Personally, it matters not to me, but I can see how allowing horses, but not allowing bikes could be construed as unfair.”

      How is that unfair? Horses don’t cause issues with hikers, and vice versa, but mountain bikes are the proverbial car going 80 in the slow lane on the freeway–they aren’t compatible.

      1. Jt Avatar

        Completely and utterly wrong my friend. I just passed two horses yesterday that had no issue with me on my bike. I did go to the side and attempted to stop. But the rider motioned me through and we exchanged good mornings and went about our way. Zero issues.

        1. Jay Avatar

          I drove down the freeway the other day and didn’t get in a car wreck, therefore car wrecks never occur. Nice logic my friend.

          1. Jt Avatar

            Your logic states that hikers and horses never have issues, but all bikers and horses do. Simply stating that you are wrong. As both can have issues while on the trail or they both won’t. You are a little narrow on your focus.

            1. Jay Avatar

              Tell you what–lets put you on a horse on a steep, blind corner and send a mountain biker down the trail at you. People get hurt this way, you know it happens, you’re just being dishonest by not admitting it.

              1. Jt Avatar

                I don’t think I can be more clear in what I said… Please read what I say before your knee jerk reaction to reply kicks in. “As both can have issues while on the trail or they both won’t”….. And in my first post I stayed I moved to the side…. I’m well aware of horses getting spooked, I yield to horses just as a hiker should.

                1. Jay Avatar

                  That isn’t knee jerk, that is fact. There are places I ride that have blind corners and steep dropoffs with nowhere to go but off the edge, and no matter how courteous you might be, those blind run-ins will happen eventually, and it’s not going to be the person on the bike that gets hurt or killed. Fact is, when I ride and I see or hear bikes (motor or mountain) I’m more than happy to get off the trail to avoid a situation, but those are trails where there’s actually somewhere to get off to the side. So again, that’s great you’re courteous, but many wilderness trails simply aren’t compatible for horses and bikes.

    2. Brett Haverstick Avatar

      For the record the wilderness boundary does not extend across the river in Hells Canyon. It should but that was the result of the National Recreation Area legislation. Otherwise you can’t have 1x week bikes in wilderness. You can’t log 1x week in wilderness, etc. either. Mountain bikes and other forms of mechanical transport are not compatible with wilderness. There are plenty of places to ride a mountain bike but wilderness is not one of them. The law is clear as a bell.

  6. monty Avatar

    In the pacific NW- national forests- there are open & closed logging roads galore. Bikers enjoy these roads & stay away from the wilderness areas.

  7. Kathleen Avatar

    “Personally, it matters not to me, but I can see how allowing horses, but not allowing bikes could be construed as unfair.”

    It’s not a matter of fairness, it’s the law: horses are not considered mechanical transport. See “prohibition of certain uses”: http://www.wilderness.net/nwps/legisact#2

    1. Brett Haverstick Avatar

      Exactly Kathleen it’s the law. Bicycles in wilderness is a non-starter.

    2. rork Avatar

      The question was perhaps if the law makes any sense – or is that irrelevant? There’s what is and what what we think should be, and those are different subjects. I’d argue there is some designated Wilderness (or parts of them) where I would recommend and welcome no livestock or pets. It would be hard on some elk hunters though.
      When the bikers complain that the horses are worse than them, I am able to somewhat agree, and ask them to assist me in the cause of horse (and lama or whatever) reduction.

    3. Jt Avatar

      Neither were bicycles, or paddle boats, or other forms of that mecahnical transport, To the mislead readers of this very biased article, it was clarified in a memo very clearly saying that mechanical transport was meant as “motorized” mechanical transport.

  8. Eric Avatar

    I am a huge advocate for wilderness. If we Create/Restore more area’s, we may be able to offer various activities according to a balanced approach. Outdoor recreation is key to protecting wilderness, kids need to be hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and touching these places!
    The most pristine area’s should be minimal impact (no bikes) but in many area’s a single track trail would benefit both hikers and bikers.
    All in all we need to stand together to create more wilderness and promote its use’s! The more Wild area’s there are the more likely one can have a place in time to be alone in the wilderness!

    1. Kathleen Avatar

      “The most pristine area’s should be minimal impact (no bikes) but in many area’s a single track trail would benefit both hikers and bikers.”

      I agree…but those places with single track would have some designation *other* than Wilderness…Special Recreation Area, or whatever. Land designated under the Wilderness Act of 1964 can’t be compromised–or wilderness designation means nothing.

    2. Jt Avatar

      Well said Eric!!

  9. Jt Avatar

    This article is obviously as biased as they come. The author basically quoted himself. But to the mislead readers who think mountain bikers want to take away trails and make jumps and ruin them are completely and utterly wrong. Yes they do have multiple trail building days, because the IMBA trails are groomed trails that a toddler could walk on. Very different from hiking trails. We are nature loving individuals. Yes there are bad apples in any group, but I’ve picked up my fair share of trash from more hikers than I have bikers. I frequent rural trails that most hikers don’t even travel on. Most of us are just want to experience nature while on a bike. Before you go spouting rhetoric about mechanical transport and the wilderness act…., I’ll stop you. In a very clear memo, the opinion was given that it was meant to mean motorized transport. But has somehow shifted in oposition to that. More than likely from big money wilderness groups that want you to think bikes are bad. We aren’t. In fact, the trails need us. More and more trails are getting lost and overgrown because of lack of use. It would bring a whole group of volunteers. Allowing bikes won’t hurt anything in nature that a hiker couldn’t hurt or disrupt. If you disagree I’d say grab a bike and check it out for yourself, you might like it.

    1. Rich Avatar


      Your comment that “Allowing bikes won’t hurt anything in nature that a hiker couldn’t hurt or disrupt” is incorrect. Hikers don’t shred hillsides for fun.

      I’ve included below part of a recent email from a hiker in a remote part of Chile that described mountain bike rider damage there. I’ve seen similar damage here but wasn’t aware that it was going on in remote parts of Chile. Unfortunately permanent destructive biker damage goes on too frequently and is a prime reason to keep mountain bikes out of fragile Wilderness areas. Here is his comment:

      “Then up over another low pass into a quite large basin in which was situated Laguna Blanca. As I came down the barren slope I passed a beautiful tiny oasis – mosses and tiny plants supported by a thin spring trickling out of the rocks It was wonderful – just a celebration of life in an otherwise completely inhospitable environment”.

      “Then, horror of horrors, I saw that some f***ing stupid mountain biker has ridden his bike right down the length of this micro-paradise that had probably taken thousands of years to get to this level of fecundity. A complete disrespect for LIFE itself!!!! Probably the idiotic arsehole had absolutely no idea of the enormity of his crime. He was just there to have FUN!!!”

      “As I walked further into the basin I saw that other bikers had been riding all over the pumice carving out great gouges in the terrain. Thousands of hikers had passed through this area and left just one trail. Now a few bikers come along and disfigure the ground with a multitude of long trails. The whole basin was overrun with these marks. Why can’t they just stick to the trail itself?”

      1. Jt Avatar

        Rich, as I said in my post “there are bad apples in every group” That refers to hikers and bikers alike. I’ve hiked my whole life and have seen the damage hikers have caused to trails just as I’ve seen damage caused by bikes. What I said, is they cause no more damage than hikers. Which is a true statement. Your citing a source in Chile that you yourself haven’t seen. Not to say it isn’t true, but to base your argument on hearsay is in itself flawed. Go to any park that does not allow bikes and you can see damage caused by hikers, or remedies to fix the problems they have caused. Go to a place that allows mountain bikes you will see the exact same if not better looking trails.

        1. Rich Avatar


          You need slow down, take your medicine and consider your accusations. You start out as usual pointing a finger at “bad apples”. Sorry but that is a spurious and worn out argument that we’ve all heard time and again and it doesn’t address the problem.

          Your allegation that my comments were hearsay is incorrect as the email I received included several pictures of the damage being caused by the bikers and the damage was obvious. I would have included the pictures in my post if I could have in this blog. However, that wouldn’t matter as I’m confident you would claim the pictures were photo-shopped and would ignore any evidence except your own ludicrous false allegations.

          Hiking with a 50 pound pack on your back is a completely different sport than a thrill ride on a mountain bike. Backpackers and hikers don’t shred hillsides and trails for fun. Bikers can and do because of the mechanics of the bicycle. I’ve witnessed these activities first hand. The bicycle was created specifically for a faster mode of travel than walking. I have a mountain bike and several road bikes and am very familiar with the capabilities of both and have turned many thousand miles on a bicycle. I ride my mountain bike on my own property and wouldn’t consider using it on a narrow public trail where people are walking often with young children. It is just plain discourteous as well as dangerous when you mix bicycles and pedestrians. Bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks where people are walking so why would we want them on trails designed for walking especially in a Wilderness setting?

          There was a lovely trail nearby that was just wide enough for foot traffic and lined with natural forbs, flowers, berries and trees. When the mountain bikers discovered the trail they immediately weed wacked the natural native plants and cut down the trees to widen it for their purposes while ruining it for everyone else. I know – just more of those “bad apples”.

          If you tend to keep your head in your pocket and haven’t seen or are not aware of the differences in how mountain bikers and hikers use a trail, then just check out u-tube or rent one of the many videos of mountain bikers having fun shredding a forest or desert trail. That is of course in addition to the “improvements” made to the trail to provide jumps and other thrill features. Apparently you have never hiked with a backpack otherwise you would know there is a clear difference between mountain biking and hiking. You don’t need a mountain bike to enjoy a Wilderness Area and these areas were not created for your biking pleasure.

          1. Jt Avatar

            I must of struck a cord with you, as you go to attacking me…. “Need,to take my medicine”… Haha. This is the kind of garbage that keeps people from having honest debates about things. Yes, it is still hearsay…, even though you saw “pictures”. I never even said it couldn’t be true… Please read my reply to you again. Hikers and bikers can use the same trail and can do it safely and without incident. Because you saw some trail riding on YouTube doesn’t have any grounds to what real wilderness bike riding entails. Yes there are things called bike parks, but by no means is anyone asking to do any such thing to a wildlife park. Where do people keep pulling this from?? The end goal is to make it legal for the national park system to designate on a trail by trail basis, with local knowledge, to allow bicycle recreation. Like fire roads and things of that nature.

    2. Jay Avatar

      That’s a very generous and self-serving interpretation, given the wording from TWA-1964:(c) “…there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

      Motorized, and “no other form…” are both mentioned, so clearly they are not referring to just motorized as you assert.

      1. Jt Avatar

        You are more than welcome to visit the Sustainable Trails Coalition page and see the memo for yourself. I did acknowledge that it’s been swept under the rug by hiking groups. Therefore what you read now has been modified and reworded. I would argue that in that narrow argument you have made, it would also eliminate parents with strollers and wheelchair bound individuals from using trails. As your definition says all mechanical transport. All laws have things called case notes, which better define the law as time goes by. As no law ever is a perfect law. This act was a good idea, and needed, but obviously flawed. Its sole purpose was to prevent development of areas.

        1. Jay Avatar

          I don’t really care what your memo says, I care what the law says. Until that wording changes, your interpretation is wrong. And as far as strollers and wheelchairs go, all wheeled devices–wheelbarrows, handcarts, strollers, etc.–are not allowed in the wilderness.

        2. JB Avatar

          “Its sole purpose was to prevent development of areas.”

          I’m sorry, but that is an utterly inaccurate statement. The opening lines of the Wilderness Act define its purpose:

          “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future
          generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

          And the Congresses purposes are also quite clear. The act states that the National Wilderness Preservation System, “…shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American
          people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as
          to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness…”

          Importantly, the Act also goes on to define those elements that comprise “wilderness” character, include “outstanding opportunities for solitude”.

          Allowing bikes into the wilderness dramatically reduces those opportunities for solitude, as bikes ~5 times as fast as hikers on the trail.

          I have nothing against biking (mountain or otherwise). In fact, I ride now far more often than I hike in wilderness areas. But bikes and biking are ubiquitous, and I’d prefer my wilderness to remain special; a refuge from racing, and thrill-seeking. There are lots of places to bike, but very few places where you can experience the kind of solitude granted by wilderness. Let’s keep it that way.

          1. Jt Avatar

            Jb, that whole big long thing you just typed can be summed up into one statement. It’s sole purpose was to prevent development of areas…. Same thing as everything you just typed.. Just shorter! Basically saying the exact same thing. The only thing I really disagree with you about is having more biking opportunities than hiking. At least around my area it’s the complete opposite.

            1. JB Avatar

              “It’s sole purpose was to prevent development of areas…”

              You seemed to have fixated on the first paragraph and ignored the rest.

              Note, that one of the purposes of wilderness defined in the act is “preservation of [its] wilderness character”, and importantly, that wilderness character is defined, in part, by “outstanding opportunities for solitude.”

              Bikes in wilderness dramatically diminish such opportunities.

  10. Susan Avatar

    “These mountain bikers erroneously claim that mountain bikes were allowed in Wilderness until 1984”

    Mountain bikes as such barely existed before 1984…. am I right? (depending on my memory here)


Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in Moscow, Idaho. He has a Masters of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho.

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Brett Haverstick