Mountain Biking Greatest Threat to New Wilderness Designation

Several years ago, I published a book on motorized recreation and its impacts on public lands. In doing the research for that book, one of the statistics that I found interesting is the demographic profile of the “average” motorized ORV user. They tended to be male, between the ages of 20 and 40, and had incomes at or slightly above the national average (It takes a lot of money to buy pick-ups, snowmobiles and dirt bikes).

Another interesting statistic is that most motorized users had an “outlaw” attitude and regularly violated trail closures and felt like they were entitled to go anyplace their machines could carry them. They were adrenaline junkies, and like spoiled children, they groused at being told they were banned from some landscapes. .

Mountain bikers are, as a demographic group, fit the profile of off-road vehicle users. They are predominately male, between 20-40, and tend to have above average incomes and often have the same outlaw attitude and sense of entitlement.

We see this sense of entitlement in the continual commandeering of trails and/or illegal construction of new trails on public lands by mountain bikers. When the Forest Service or BLM seeks to close some of these trails (very infrequently done) mountain bikers squeal like a poked pig, claiming they being
“discriminated against.”

A good example is the reaction of mountain bikers in Wyoming to closure of the Dunior Special Management Area near Dubois Wyoming. The Dunior has been a candidate for wilderness for years.  But without seeking any permission, mountain bikers began to ride in the area and upgrade trails. The Shoshone National Forest finally closed the trails, and the mountain bikers screamed about their “loss” of access. Access that was garnered illegally.

A similar situation exists in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area on the border of Idaho and Wyoming. Mountain bikers have commandeered trails in the area and are fighting to oppose wilderness designation for the area. This conflict would not have occurred if the Bridger Teton National Forest had simply unambiguously closed the trails to mountain bikers. Afterall a Wilderness Study Area is supposed to be managed for its wilderness qualities until Congress determines its fate and mechanical access is not permitted.

A comparable conflict is being precipitated on the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana where mountain bikers are regularly riding in a wilderness study areas like the Big Snowy Mountains. Similarly, mountain bikers regularly ride in the Gallatin Range, another Wilderness Study Area on the Gallatin/Custer National Forest.

When the Forest Service limits mountain bike use, the mountain bikers scream that they are being denied access to public lands. On the contrary, most trails currently used by mountain bikers are available to anyone to walk. The only thing that is being closed is access to their machines (bikes).  Most of these users are in better than average physical condition.

While there are local and regional mountain biking advocacy groups as well the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) all promoting more mountain bike access and trail construction, there is virtually no push back from conservation groups. I am not aware of a single employee of any conservation group whose sole responsibility is to monitor mountain bike use in proposed wilderness areas and to provide push back and support to public lands managers who might want to limit mountain biking in these areas.

I believe if mountain biking isn’t controlled and contained just as motorized ORV use has been limited, we will find it nearly impossible to designate any new wilderness areas.

Indeed, some of the more aggressive mountain bikers are even seeking to scuttle the prohibition on mountain biking in designated wilderness, which will open the door to a host of other interests to argue they too should be given access to the these lands. In a sense mountain biking, to use a cliché, is the camel’s nose under the tent.

Mountain biking is part of the outdoor recreation industry that is more about physical exercise, challenging one’s prowess on a machine and use of our public lands as outdoor gymnasiums than about appreciation of natural systems and/or protecting the ecological integrity of the landscape. It’s about speed and domination.

Challenging oneself isn’t necessarily bad. We all, I think, enjoy challenges. And mountain biking is great fun. I ride my bike regularly on trails specifically designed for mountain bike use.

However, we must recognize that unlimited access to public lands whether by extractive industry like logging, mining or livestock grazing or recreational users, can threaten the wildlife and ecological whole of the land.

We have so few landscapes specifically set aside to preserve ecological integrity that we must make protection of natural function a primary function.  This is an idea that seems foreign to many mountain bikers, just as it seems incomprehensible to many motorized recreationists or a smaller sub-set of bird watchers, hikers and backpacker.

In the end, we must accept limits. One of the lessons one teaches young children as a parent is the need for restrictions on behavior. You can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need.  Far too many mountain bikers remind me of spoiled children who put on a tantrum when they are told that no they can’t do something.

I may be optimistic, but I am hoping to see a maturing of the mountain biking culture. After all you don’t need to bike in roadless lands to get an adrenaline high.  You do need to consider one’s impacts on other people and critters.

We need wild places for a host of reason, including protecting sensitive wildlife, ecological processes, and scenic beauty. But perhaps one of the most important reasons for creating wilderness areas is that it teaches us humility and self-limits. These are lessons the mountain biking community could use.








  1. alf Avatar

    Words have meanings and connotations, something the environmental community seems to refuse to understand, but that the commodity interests and mechanized recreationists understand and have grabbed on to, whether consciously or unconsciously. Three obvious examples : (1) “Multiple Use” has been co-opted by those interests and their captive politicians to mean almost exclusively commodity extraction – logging, mining, and domestic livestock grazing; (2)and (3)”Recreation” and “Access” have, by the same cabal, been co-opted and interpreted to mean only mechanical and motorized recreation/access.

    1. George Nickas Avatar
      George Nickas

      …and in the context of mountain bikes the use of the phrase “human-powered recreation”. It’s a machine–nothing human or animal about it. Call it what it is–mechanized recreation.

      1. rork Avatar

        I don’t even like the word recreation, since nothing is being recreated.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Me neither. 🙂

          It also sounds too detached a word, or without feeling.

          “Recreation” can be just as damaging to these places as any activity.

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            It’s a terribly one-sided word as well.

  2. Dave Avatar

    For the sake of both elegance and principle I believe the line for what aids may use should be based on whether non-human energy is supplied. That would allow skis, hiking poles, human powered wheel chairs and bicycles w/o batteries.

  3. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Considering the following, as an avid and long time hiker, I have no problem sharing trails with mountain bikers and in fact somewhat appreciate their presence.

    1. The vast majority are courteous and will let you know how many are heading my way and slow down when we do meet.

    2. Many form organizations to promote their use of trails on federal lands and end up maintaining the trails that due to a lack of federal trail maintenance funds, would otherwise go unmaintained.

    3. Like hunters and fishers, they are advocates for keeping our public lands, public, and for us who want to keep it that way, the more support the better.

    4. Anytime we can get more people to appreciate the great outdoors and all of the health benefits that go along with them, instead of sitting in their homes, (IMHO wasting away their life) the better.

    5. I have visited quite a few wilderness areas in the western US and the vast majority of trails in them consists of topography that is just too steep even for the most fit mountain bikers. However, mountain bikers should not be using trails unless they are designated OK for use.

    I agree with Dave (above), as long as only human energy is used, those uses should be allowed. If someone is opposed due to the damage done by bikes, just walk on a trail used by horses and/or mules (there is no comparison) but those are allowed in wilderness areas.

    1. rork Avatar

      The horses/mules argument is not very good. It’s saying there are worse things so the merely bad thing is OK. Instead lets close some sensitive areas to livestock (and pets). Near me is holy land where miles of looping new trails (like labyrinths) are being cut for bikers, and we are told this is a favor to us, rather than sacrilege – it is ghastly. We didn’t need any more trails there.

      I have walked places near me in MI for 40 years now, and the number of people walking the trails has not increased, but on some of the trails near designated biking trails, the condition of the trails have been degraded in the last 3 years, and it’s pretty clearly thanks to illegal bike use. That is despite abundant nearby bike trails.

  4. Allen Tanner Avatar
    Allen Tanner

    Move along. No scientific data analysis or critical assessment on increasing utilization of public forest areas. The rhetoric here is the same ubiquitous condescending parental conservationist-elite opinion shared in myriad other green echo chambers.

    For an inclusive discussion read and comment here:

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      “…Conservationist-elite opinion…”

      When one looks at the scratch it takes for a decent rig, the term “conservationist-elite is a bit hypocritical.

      Granted, some of these are high end bikes, but I’d hazard an educated guess that the farther one ventures into backcountry/wilderness, one would be more likely to find Mt Bikes in these price parameters. Competent cyclists must have fairly deep purses.

      That said, I would also submit that those who venture farther into these wilderness zones are dedicated MT. Bikers, with good skill sets, more than adequate wrenching abilities, and are considerate of people, the terrain, and wildlife.

      As one who participated in many of the cycling disciplines: road; cyclocross; cross country; and Mt Bike racing I was always thankful for trails roads and thankful for surviving some of the pratfalls that accompany cycling.

      I’ve cycled all over the country, and I just don’t understand, with the trail systems that exist, the actual “need” to extend cycling trails deeper into wilderness areas.

      1. Allen Tanner Avatar
        Allen Tanner

        Elite is an attitude, and I have used it in a derogatory sense. There’s a majority that denegrate cyclists with gross stereotypes as this author has. How hard one works to save for a bicycle is entirely unrelated and not at all hypocritical.

        Yes, the majority of cyclists are conservation minded, respect greatly these Wilderness Areas and fully support the intended special use of these lands.

        But many cyclists feel they have been excluded, arbitrarily. There’s strong evidence that cyclists have no more impact on the land than hikers, and far less than equestrians. Arguments based on damaging these lands have no leg to stand on. We work to maintain trails, preserve lands in sustainable manner, and advocate for more to enjoy these personally spiritual places.

        Really every opinion against excluding cyclists boils down to how each individual interprets the Wilderness Act.

        So while you may be a cyclist that feels bicycle access to Wilderness Areas are not ‘needed’, there also exist cyclists who feel otherwise.

        Why does your opinion allow the exclusion of another on this public land?

        Exclusive conservation-elite attitude rules… for now.

        1. Immer Treue Avatar
          Immer Treue

          “Why does your opinion allow the exclusion of another on this public land?

          Exclusive conservation-elite attitude rules… for now.”

          My opinion allows for the exclusion of no one. It is an opinion, and it’s point centers on the need, or lack thereof, and has nothing to do with conservation-elite attitude.

          1. Allen Tanner Avatar
            Allen Tanner

            Your opinion excludes cyclists, as does the current legal interpretation of the Wilderness Act.

            1. Immer Treue Avatar
              Immer Treue

              The difference is, that my “opinion” does not shape policy, nor will it shape policy in the future.

              Like rork, I have seen the damage caused by Mt bikes, horses and bikes, whatever you may believe, are not a good combination. The speed of bikes on downhills with blind curves is a recipe for disaster for who, or whatever might be ascending on the other end of that blind curve, including other cyclists unless strict clockwise/counterclockwise policies are enforced. But that enfringes on entitlement, causes hard feelings, and the closing down of areas once open to cycling.

              As a former competitive Mt Biker, you have my empathy, and that’s about it.

        2. rork Avatar

          No leg to stand on: There are pieces of bike trail near me where the erosion is more than 6 feet deep, and tons of dirt have been sent down the hill.

          We work to maintain trails, preserve lands in sustainable manner: work to maintain biking trails you mean, and to create new ones. Near me they need maintaining, cause bikers use them, the other trails don’t. A biking trail is a trail I will not use, so it’s not just no favor, it’s a taking.
          Know how many bikers work with me volunteering for the state of MI on public lands stewardship? Zero. I admit there used to be one biker years ago. My anecdotal observation is that they have just 1 agenda item – more trails.

          Thanks Todd McMahon.

          1. Allen Tanner Avatar
            Allen Tanner

            Anecdotal evidence?

            Here’s a few scientific studies which support the assertion that there is no reason to prohibit or restrict mountain biking from a resource or environmental protection perspective:

            Bjorkman, A. W. (1996). Off-road Bicycle and Hiking Trail User Interactions: A Report to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. Wisconsin, Wisconsin Natural Resources Bureau of Research.

            Cessford, G. R. (1995). Off-road impacts of mountain bikes: a review and discussion Off-Road Impacts of Mountain Bikes: A Review and Discussion Science & Research Series No 92. Wellington, NZ, Department of Conservation. pp: 42-70.

            Chavez, D., P. Winter, et al. (1993). Recreational mountain biking: A management perspective. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 11 1: 7.

            Edger, C. O. (1997). Mountain biking and Marin Municipal Water District watershed. Trends 34 3: 5.

            Fritz, S. C., J. C. Kingston, et al. (1993). Quantitative trophic reconstruction from sedimentary diatom assemblages – A cautionary tale. Freshwater Biology 30(1): 1-23.

            Gander, H. and P. Ingold (1997). Reactions of Male Alpine Chamois Rupicapra r. rupicapra to Hikers, Joggers and Mountainbikers. Biological Conservation 79: 3.

            Goeft, U. and J. Alder (2001). Sustainable mountain biking: A case study from the Southwest of Western Australia. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 9 3: 19.

            Gruttz, J. and D. Hollingshead (1995). “Managing the Biophysical Impacts of Off-Road Bicycling” or “Shred Lightly.” Environmental Ethics & Practices in Backcountry Recreation Conference, University of Calgary, Alberta.

            Hammit, W. E. and D. N. Cole (1998). Wildland Recreation: Ecology and Management. New York, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

            Hellmund, P. C. (1998). Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind: A Handbook for Trail Planners. Denver, Colorado State Parks.

            Hendricks, W. W. (1997). Mountain bike management and research: An introduction. Trends, 34(3), 2-4.

            Herrero, Jake, and Stephen Herrero (2000) Management Options for the Moraine Lake Highline Trail: Grizzly Bears and Cyclists. Unpublished Report for Parks Canada.

            Kasworm, W. F. and T. L. Monley (1990). Road and trail influences on grizzly bears and black bears in northwest Montana. Bears: Their Biology and Management: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference, Victoria, B.C., International Association for Bear Research and Management.

            Knight, R. L. and D. N. Cole (1991). Effects of recreational activity on wildlife in wildlands. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resource Conference.

            LeChevallier, M. W., M. Abbaszadegan, et al. (1999). Committee report: Emerging pathogens – viruses, protozoa, and algal toxins. Journal American Water Works Association 91(9): 110-121.

            Leung, Y. F. and J. L. Marion (1996). Trail degradation as influenced by environmental factors: A state-of-the-knowledge review. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 51(2): 130-136.

            Marion, J. L. (2006). Assessing and Understanding Trail Degradation: Results from Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area. USDI, National Park Service.

            Papouchis, C. M., F. J. Singer, et al. (2001). Responses of desert bighorn sheep to increased human recreation. Journal of Wildlife Management 65 3: 573-582.

            Roggenbuck, J. W., D. R. Williams, et al. (1993). Defining Acceptable Conditions in Wilderness. Environmental Management 17 2: 187-197.

            Schuett, M. A. (1997). State park directors’ perceptions of mountain biking. Environmental Management 21(2): 239-246.

            Spahr, Robin. (1990) Factors Affecting The Distribution Of Bald Eagles And Effects Of Human Activity On Bald Eagles Wintering Along The Boise River, 1990. Boise State University, Thesis.

            Suk, T. J., S. K. Sorenson, et al. (1987). The relation between human presence and occurrence of Giardia Cysts in streams in the Sierra-Nevada, California. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 4(1): 71-75.

            Taylor, A. R. and R. L. Knight (2003). Wildlife Responses to Recreation and Associated Visitor Perceptions. Ecological Applications 13 4: 12.

            Taylor, D. N., K. T. Mcdermott, et al. (1983). Campylobacter Enteritis from untreated water in the Rocky Mountains. Annals of Internal Medicine 99 1: 38-40.

            Thurston, E. and R. J. Reader (2001). Impacts of experimentally applied mountain biking and hiking on vegetation and soil of a deciduous forest. Environmental Management 27(3): 397-409.

            Tyser, R. W. and C. A. Worley (1992). Alien flora in grasslands adjacent to road and trail corridors in Glacier National Park, Montana (USA). Conservation Biology 6(2): 253-262.

            Van der Zande, A. N., J. C. Berkhuizen, H. C. van Latesteijn, W. J. ter Keurs, and A. J. Poppelaars (1984) Impact of outdoor recreation on the density of a number of breeding bird species in woods adjacent to urban residential areas. Biological Conservation 30: 1-39.

            Vaske, J. J., M. P. Donnelly, et al. (1993). Establishing management standards – Selected examples of the normative approach. Environmental Management 17(5): 629-643.

            White, D. D., M. T. Waskey, et al. (2006). A comparative study of impacts to mountain bike trails in five common ecological regions of the Southwestern U.S. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 24(2): 20.

            Wilson, J. P. and J. P. Seney (1994). Erosional impact of hikers, horses, motorcycles, and off-road bicycles on mountain trails in Montana. Mountain Research and Development 14(1): 77-88.

            Wöhrstein, T. (1998). Mountainbike und Umwelt – Ökologische Auswirkungen und Nutzungskonflikte (Mountainbike and Environment – Ecological Impacts and Use Conflict). Saarbrücken-Dudweiler. Incomplete Reference, Pirrot Verlag & Druck.

            1. rork Avatar

              Do any of these support the idea that opening trails to bikes does not increase impact?

              1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                Rork, ALL human presence and activity in natural spaces implies some amount of impact. What the science shows in general is that cycling is similar in impact to hiking and perhaps less so than horse use. So if you are concerned about ecological impact, don’t you think it makes sense to look at all the user groups and determine in a cooperative manner how best to manage those impacts while still inviting and encouraging people to engage with, value and protect natural areas in exactly the same way you do? Does that not sound like a potentially productive way to build a robust outdoor community that can do a better job of preserving the land?

                1. rork Avatar

                  Could work, but I have a different idea. Have some areas be closed to bikes (and horses) and do it exactly the same way I do, but permit it in some areas, and I won’t go there very much. Hell, we have areas where motorized vehicles are permitted, and we solve the conflict by just limiting where that’s allowed. It works.

                  What the science isn’t asking is if opening trails to bikes is bad for the land, and I think there’s a reason it’s not studied – cause it’s too obvious.

            2. Louise Kane Avatar
              Louise Kane

              I’m betting that some research will also uncover contrasts findings on the consequences to wildlife of humans intruding into wilderness areas
              When I have a moment I’ll be looking

              1. Mr. Hand Avatar
                Mr. Hand

                Like this one? It concludes that -gulp- hiking has a more detrimental impact on wildlife than motorized recreation :^O


    2. Todd McMahon Avatar

      Allen, and here is my reply to John Fisch. Most everything he is saying is false:

      1. Allen Tanner Avatar
        Allen Tanner

        I’ve read your response before and do not find it helpful (ignoratio elenchi)

        Skis are mechanical transportation, regardless if they are made of wood and leather. The first bicycles were made of wood and metal. Why is one allowed and not the other?

        Why was the 1984 clarification to exclude bicycles needed if the the 1964 verbiage was clear as you assert?

        Are horses primeval to the Americas or of the ‘first age’? No, the Spanish brought them over. Not natural, not primeval, but allowed.

        Is there a speed limit for travelers in Wilderness areas? Is there a distance per day rule? I find nothing in the Wilderness Act about this.

        Further points about the amount of other land for outdoor experience and trail usage conflicts are beside the point. The question in this debate is trail access in public Wilderness Areas.

        Lastly, motorized vehicles will not come next and are not part of the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          “Some people love to hike into wilderness. Others are content just knowing it’s there”

          I fall into the “content just knowing it’s there” category, Allen.

          And taking that a step further, IMHO, there ought to be wilderness areas designated where mankind (and our livestock) can’t step one foot in, period.

          That would put an end to some of the bickering over who has the right to disrupt wildlife & wild places.

          “Lastly, motorized vehicles will not come next and are not part of the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act”

          Ignorant statement, given the fact that mountain biking groups are now trying to change access to wilderness areas.

          I’m right on the edge of a national forest, the valley I live in, has gone from a handful of cabins, scattered around the valley, to subdivisions full of people, all wanting to get out and enjoy nature.

          Some just hike or ride horses but too many others, take the easiest form of transportation – ATV’s, snowmobiles, dirt bikes.

          A whole system of trails (right up to the top of mountainous areas) have been carved out to provide them with a “comfortable” ride. Unfortunately, the result is a lot of trails, OFF those trails, right through pristine meadows and streams.

          Its a depressing mess to see and it won’t get any better as people trying to escape urban life, if just for a few months out of the year, continue to come and build, and fill their garages with the required toys (snowmobiles, ATV’s, etc.) so they too can access wild areas.

          1. ToTheMoon Avatar

            Nancy writes: “I fall into the “content just knowing it’s there” category.” I’m with you, Nancy. Unfortunately, if you and I had been relying on that paradigm for the preservation of natural areas for the past 100 years, we’d probably have nothing left to preserve. Virtually every single piece of land conservation legislation and policy that has ever done any good has involved and invited some level of outdoor recreation. It’s been a very good and successful model.

            Regarding your leap of faith from bicycles to ATVs and subdivisions, you’ve still offered nothing to make the case for how or why the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act would contribute to the problem. If what you are opposed to is humans experiencing the outdoors and subsequently wanting to experience more outdoors, then what you need to be doing is advocating for the reduction of human activity in those places. And if it’s Wilderness you’re concerned about, the place you’ll want to start reducing humans is with the humans who are there: hikers and equestrians. Simply excluding a group because they like one piece of fundamentally benign equipment or another is not the way to make good policy or to reduce the bickering that you’re complaining about.

            1. Nancy Avatar


              You keep missing the big point, you are NOT excluded from accessing these areas. What you (and others in the mountain biking community) want to do is add, yet another layer of degradation to wilderness areas.

              The debate rages on here also:


        2. Rich Avatar


          Climb off your high horse and leave your arrogant opinions and irrational arguments behind. First you are sadly mistaken regarding who can use Wilderness Areas. Making false statements will not get much traction. Cyclists are not excluded from the Wilderness Areas. Cyclists can walk, run, skip, ski, snowshoe, lead a pack animal and even ride a horse in Wilderness Areas. However, wheeled and mechanical advantage devices have no purpose and are not allowed in a WA.

          You said – “Really every opinion against excluding cyclists boils down to how each individual interprets the Wilderness Act.”

          No it is not just a matter of your opinion or a creative interpretation. The reason is simple – an infinitesimally small amount of the earth has been set aside for the natural solitude, challenge and freedom from the mechanized world. Bicycles can be used on the remainder of the earth for your mechanical pleasure. Why would you insist on spoiling the experience of those individuals who want to escape the mechanized world when you have all the rest of the earth to ride on? What is your point?

          You said – “Further points about the amount of other land for outdoor experience and trail usage conflicts are beside the point.”

          You are incorrect as trail usage conflicts are exactly “the point”. The safety of other users is an extremely important point. Most trails in WA’s are narrow and often steep. When hikers pass they have time to find a place to step off the trail. When mountain bikers ride on a natural trail with loose dirt, rock or gravel base, control can be challenging and stopping quickly especially on the descent, is difficult. On the ascent it is all about keeping up speed and maintaining momentum. If others are hiking or riding horses on the trail, the differences in the speed of mechanized users and other users puts both at risk. That is exactly the reason we don’t allow cyclists to use sidewalks where pedestrians are walking and require them to use the road or specially designed trails. I ride both road and mountain bikes, and know the risks first hand. Just out of common courtesy, cyclists should never put hikers or equestrians at risk by riding on trails they are using.

          You said – “Skis are mechanical transportation, regardless if they are made of wood and leather. The first bicycles were made of wood and metal. Why is one allowed and not the other?”

          Whoa – Allen – I can’t believe an intelligent individual would actually make that claim. Bicycles are not made of wood. Bicycles provide mechanical advantage through metal frames, handle bars, headsets, forks, pedals, cranks, bottom brackets, steel gears, derailleurs. chains, shock absorbers, cables, rubber tires, titanium wheels and all the rest. There is simply no comparison between a mountain bike and a pair of skis no matter how much you pay for the skis. Skis simply allow someone to sometimes stay on the surface of the snow. Yes there are bindings and boots but nothing remotely as complex as a modern mountain bike. Next you will allege that hiking boots, knickers, t-shirts, stocking caps and backpacks are “mechanical transportation” as well.

          1. ToTheMoon Avatar

            Rich, I can’t speak for Allen of course, but I’m always struck by how ridiculous it is that folks on either side of this discussion find the arguments on the other side ridiculous.

            As I commented to Rork below, the “You’re not excluded, your bicycle is excluded” argument seems deceptively simplistic and fundamentally inconsistent to me. If I arbitrarily pick a piece of your equipment (of which there is a long list) and exclude it with no rationale other than it offends my Wilderness sensibilities, you’re going to cry foul. Of course your equipment has a purpose, just like a bicycle does: it all help to enable your travel, survival, convenience or experience in the Wilderness.

            You talk about the risks of mixing trail users. But we mix trail users every day on thousands of miles of backcountry trails all over the country with great success and the problems you insist on simply have not materialized in the manner you imply. Yes, all users can impact the experience of others. When we hike or ride a horse on a narrow trail, someone often has to pause, step aside or maybe even back up for someone else. It’s already a part of trail sharing and it’s something we try to manage or minimize through a range of techniques. Bicycles can and do fit just fine into that mix.

            As for the “what’s mechanical” argument, how about you head off to a snowy setting in your boots and challenge the next XC skier you see to a race. You’re quickly going to find out what mechanical advantage means. And if you care to examine that skier’s equipment (or the boater’s or the rock climber’s or even some of your own), you may also find levers, cams, seals, springs, titanium parts, etc. “…no comparison between a mountain bike and a pair of skis…” is silly on its face. Your argument amounts to counting the number of moving parts and drawing the line at some number that favors your equipment but not others.

            I’d call your argument ridiculous, except for the fact that I’m willing to compromise over your personal revulsion toward the idea of a bicycle in the Wilderness and I’m willing to surrender the vast majority of it to you and your choices of mechanical equipment. I just think that 110 million acres of the most beautiful and precious of our public lands is too much for you to insist on.

            1. JB Avatar

              “If I arbitrarily pick a piece of your equipment (of which there is a long list) and exclude it with no rationale other than it offends my Wilderness sensibilities, you’re going to cry foul. Of course your equipment has a purpose, just like a bicycle does: it all help to enable your travel, survival, convenience or experience in the Wilderness.”

              Ah, but there are a number of reasonable rationale for excluding this particular type of equipment, none of them arbitrary. First and foremost, the Wilderness Act specifies that wilderness provide
              “outstanding opportunities for solitude”. Bicycles travel much faster on trails than walkers, hikers, bird-watchers and backpackers, thereby increasing encounter rates (where bikers are present) and decreasing all other recreationists’ opportunities for solitude. And, of course, mountain bikers are far more prone to accidents then other forms of recreation. Wilderness conditions exacerbate the problem, making injured people are much harder (and more expensive and time-consuming) to locate and access, thereby increasing the risk of serious injuries or even mortality. Finally, with their greater speed and ease of use, bicycles can cover much greater distances, dramatically increasing the use of interior trails (that are much harder to access on foot), and associated ecological damages.

              You might not agree that these rationale are serious enough to justify a ban on bikes–that’s fine; but you cannot say that wilderness proponents do not offer reasonable rationale for excluding bikes.

              1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                JB, Just revisiting this thread and realizing you didn’t get a direct response to your thoughtful post.

                First, I’ll stick by my assertion that the various topics/criteria you mentioned are not rationale for the EXCLUSION of bicycles, they are rationale for the MANAGEMENT of bicycles. Human-caused Wildfire causes far more damage and devastation to natural areas than bicycles ever can or will, but do we entirely and permanently ban fire making equipment (or the people who carry it) from the land? No, but we do manage fire with a range of tools, regulations and policies.

                Regarding the “solitude” mentioned in the WA, every visitor, regardless of their mode of transportation, reduces the solitude of every other visitor. Bicycles on backcountry trails generally travel somewhat faster than foot travelers but the differences are not as dramatic as many people like to assert. Non-bicycle users have a range of walking, running and skiing speeds. Based on the posted times/distances and GPS data I’ve seen, backcountry cyclists seem to average speeds 2-3 mph faster than hikers.

                So, yes, that can mean that a cyclist may pass (in the opposite direction) more hikers than they would if the cyclist were walking. Result: solitude compromised. On the other hand, if traveling in the same direction, that cyclist pedals both to and away from hikers relatively quickly, leaving greater solitude for the hiker. Just this week, my Wilderness solitude was compromised more by fellow hikers than it would have been by a cyclist because the other hikers and I were frequently leapfrogging along in the same direction.

                Equestrians rely primarily on the stamina of their animal, which can also “refuel” in the field (to some degree) and are also capable of carrying a far greater load of supplies than a cyclist can. And equestrians can and do have relatively long residence times in the backcountry. That increases their interference with the solitude of others.

                You assert that cyclists are more prone to injury and therefor represent higher public cost for search and rescue. Maybe. Or not. I’ve never seen any statistics with clear relevance to backcountry cycling. Please share. But even so, what is the optimal level of injury and search/rescue cost that you’d like to set? Obviously, we have been rescuing or retrieving hikers for centuries. Shall we ban all hikers entirely and permanently from the land?

                I assume from your post that you do acknowledge the legitimacy of the arguments I’m offering, but I’ll reiterate my underlying point: You write, “but you cannot say that wilderness proponents do not offer reasonable rationale for excluding bikes.” Yes, I can and I just did. What I cannot say is that wilderness proponents do not offer reasonable rationale for MANAGING bikes.

  5. Leslie Patten Avatar
    Leslie Patten

    Timely article. A bit more about the Shoshone’s biking mgmt. proposal

  6. Allen Tanner Avatar
    Allen Tanner

    Here’s a balanced article from another little environmentally-minded publication:

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I’m willing to give up access to undeveloped wilderness for the sake of keeping it as habitat for wildlife and to protect it. Just to ‘know it is (still) there’. Can we really justify taking more away from bears and other wildlife, and the inevitable conflicts that will result, where it won’t be the human who has to pay the price? I can’t.

    The thing of it is, when will enough ever be enough? I think it was rork who said despite more trails for mountain bikes, there are still those who are going off trail. It’s like raising the speed limit; there will always be those who won’t abide by it, whatever it is.

  8. ToTheMoon Avatar

    Wow. Almost a thousand words in that essay and Mr. Wuerther didn’t present even one fact-based, empirical reason to exclude bicycles from the public land. Rest assured, if bicycles caused disproportionate ecological impact as implied by Mr. Wuerthner, or were not already established as a readily manageable use on public trails, Mr Wuerthner would be citing his sources. Instead, his essay is the same old fear-mongering and obfuscation he has been relying on for decades.

    Mr. Wuerthner employs a host of familiar tricks and fallacies in his effort to preserve our public lands exclusively for his personal form of outdoor recreation. By intentionally conflating unauthorized trail use by outlaw visitors with the legitimate complaints of cyclists who opine that new Wilderness designations have locked them out of trails that they had been sharing and maintaining successfully and sustainably alongside other trail users for many decades, Mr. Wuerthner is employing a type of muddled hate mongering that has become all too familiar in our national culture.

    Mr. Wuerthner asserts that “there is virtually no push back from conservation groups” when mountain bike advocates promote more bicycle trails and access. That statement alone is so fundamentally ignorant that it should disqualify Mr. Wuerthner on this topic.

    Mr. Wuerthner insists that efforts to allow the land agencies to even consider cycling on Wilderness trails would “open the door to a host of other interests…” This type of vague, slippery slope argument is a common tool when the facts of the immediate topic defy effective criticism. Mr. Wuerthner can’t point to anything in the actual proposed legislation (s.3205) that does anything like what he is attempting to describe. Lacking a specific argument, Mr. Wuerthner has to resort to “camel’s nose” clichés.

    “However, we must recognize that unlimited access to public lands whether by extractive industry like logging, mining or livestock grazing or recreational users, can threaten the wildlife and ecological whole of the land.” The problem here is that one of the things (bicycles) implicit in Mr. Wuerthner’s list of evils poses no more threat to the wildlife or ecology than Mr. Wuerthner does when he seeks his adrenaline high with his boots and rifle. Certainly, there are specific lands and locations where foot, bicycle, horse and hunting use may have particular and unwanted impacts, but that is exactly why it is useful to manage those users on a case-by-case basis. And that is exactly what the proposed legislation does.

    Mr. Wuertyhner writes: “In the end, we must accept limits. One of the lessons one teaches young children as a parent is the need for restrictions on behavior.” But Mr. Wuerthner has no apparent interest in limits on his form of outdoor recreation. And this is despite his own observation that the idea of protecting nature is foreign to some “bird watchers, hikers and backpacker[s].” Curiously, it’s just the cyclists who need to be excluded as a group. Another thing that parents try to teach young children is how to share and treat others fairly. Maybe that’s a lesson Mr. Wuerthner could use.

  9. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It’s only happened to me once. I heard an ‘on your left’, and then got out of the way so the bikes could pass.

    I can’t imagine how they manage with horses on the trails too. I enjoy seeing horses and riders and if I see a horse trailer at the trailhead; the horses walk slowly over the uneven terrain and the horses are beautiful to see. They don’t go flying past you bouncing and skidding over the ground. It is too dangerous IMO.

    How in the heck is a mountain bike or any bike going to qualify as ‘non-mechanized’? ATVs, the motorized and mechanized vehicles, I cannot abide – the exhaust and noise disturbs others, as well as taking them out to illegal areas and kicking up dirt, but I guess who cares?

    1. ToTheMoon Avatar

      Ida Lupine, you don’t have to “imagine” how bicycles and horses get along. You can watch them getting along on public trails all over the country. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate management challenges to overcome, but overcoming those challenges exclusively at the expense of cyclists seems a bit lopsided to me. Don’t you think that some level of sharing, cooperation and compromise sounds like a better way to resolve conflict on public lands? Or should the most entrenched, politically connected users get to make all the decisions for the rest of us? That just doesn’t seem right to me.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        Bikes and horses are not a good mix, period.

        1. ToTheMoon Avatar

          Yet we mix them successfully on many many trails. But let’s imagine that’s not true. Should we resolve the conflict at the expense of just one group or the other? How would you defend such a policy?

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            Remove the bikes.

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar

              “Remove the bikes.” That’s not an argument. How about we just remove everyone whose screen name starts with I? Fair enough?

              1. Immer Treue Avatar
                Immer Treue

                I mean ToTheMoon. I’ve witnessed Mt Bike/horse interaction. It’s not pretty, and the person on the horse has farther to fall than the person on the bike. It’s not a good mix.

                A person who’s horse spooks now is a problem for whoever is close. The trails are open to you whenever you want to use them, just not with a bike. You’re nothing but an entitled little brat. There exist enough places to ride, whether for challenge or to get lathered.

                Knock your socks off on the remainder of your comments.

          2. Mat-ters Avatar

            tothemoon, We have a huge network of trails here in WI. My family and I have biked those trails without issues with the horses we have seen on the trail(aside of going through horse pies). There is a huge horse festival in Leopolis WI (near my cabin) which floods the bike trails with horse tails. I don’t know of any bad blood with the bikers and horseman anywhere here….. Looks you may want to keep your tail down for it looks like one of the Alpha’s from TWN has their eyes on you and hair standing on end.

            You know what my mom used to say about those that have to resort to name calling like “idoit” “spoiled” and “brat”…. you can cut their insecurity with a knife and their names typically describe themselves more than their targets….their bullies.

            1. Mat-ters Avatar

              Also, with my own horse experience (which is marginal but educated) …. I’m thinking some horses have issue with other horses MUCH MORE than the do with a bike!

            2. ToTheMoon Avatar

              Thanks for the comment and reality check, Mat-ters. But what you’re saying is an utter impossibility according to several commenters here. Can’t you get it through your thick head: Bicycles and horses CANNOT share trails, no matter how well they are actually sharing trails.

              1. Mat-ters Avatar

                To tell the truth, I don’t know that much about the true integration between the two. I have done both biking and horse back, just not much of it in a mixed setting.

  10. rork Avatar

    “Curiously, it’s just the cyclists who need to be excluded as a group.”
    For me, there are plenty of uses that need exclusion in this and many other circumstances. ATVs for example. I’m extreme and would not allow pack animals in most Wilderness. We have lakes near me closed to motors – just so we can have some like that. We have lakes closed to fishing – we give them to Osprey.

    Again, cyclists aren’t excluded as long as they use no bicycle. It’s not people being excluded.

    1. ToTheMoon Avatar

      Rork writes: “… there are plenty of uses that need exclusion…” Yes, agreed. But you’ve made no case for the exclusion of bicycles specifically. It is well established that ATV’s have disproportionately large negative impact. Similarly, pack animals, bicycles or just boots can have unacceptable levels of impact depending on specific conditions. We should manage them accordingly.

      The “people aren’t excluded, bicycles are excluded” argument is not compelling to me. If I told you that you were no longer allowed to access Wilderness wearing synthetic fabrics, you’d demand to know the empirical basis for the exclusion. And you would deserve an answer better than “You’re not excluded, your fabric is excluded.”

      1. Kathleen Avatar

        “If I told you that you were no longer allowed to access Wilderness wearing synthetic fabrics, you’d demand to know the empirical basis for the exclusion.”

        From Section 4C of the Wilderness Act, Prohibition of Certain Uses – “…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.”
        Synthetic fabric isn’t listed there or defined as any of those prohibitions–that’s the empirical evidence.

        1. ToTheMoon Avatar

          That’s not actually empirical evidence of why anything should be excluded, it’s just a statement of exclusion. But I think you missed my point. Are you telling me that if the WA had included a statement such as, “…and there shall be no clothing of non-natural fabric…” you would simply accept such a restriction and you would oppose anyone’s efforts to modify it? If so, I would suggest that you belong to a very small group of perhaps admirable Luddites who would have a lot less Wilderness to worry about today because popular support for cotton and wool is rather limited.

          1. Kathleen Avatar

            It’s a specious argument. The authors of the Act *didn’t* exclude synthetic fabric–they prohibited categories of things that impair or destroy wilderness character. Wheel barrows and ‘game’ carts–along with bicycles–are prohibited as forms of mechanical transport. Do I accept that? Yes, and that’s as one who’s been both an avid cyclist and hiker/backpacker.

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar

              Kathleen, I think there are two very distinct arguments being offered in these comments (not necessarily by you). On the one hand, some commenters observe that the Wilderness must be protected from degradation. I absolutely agree. The disagreement comes with the solution, which currently is entirely at the expense of cyclists while other users are allowed to continue to use the public land with their various forms of mechanical equipment. I’m simply arguing that such a policy is unfair, misguided and ultimately harmful to conservation goals as an increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts are angered and alienated.

              But you, and many others, are suggesting, in a separate argument, that our hands are tied because of wording in the 1964 Wilderness Act. If I were to show you evidence that the “authors of the act” did NOT exclude bicycles, wheelbarrows and game carts, would that have any impact on your views?

              1. Kathleen Avatar

                The language of the Wilderness Act has stood the test of time for 52 years. If it hadn’t, there would already by wheel barrows, game carts, strollers, bicycles, pogo sticks, unicycles, skateboards and other forms of mechanical transport on wilderness trails.

                1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                  Ida Lupine

                  Thank goodness! It really is much too dangerous in many ways. To the riders themselves, to hikers, horses and riders, and wildlife. And of course, if someone gets mauled by a Mama Grizzly defending cubs, who will pay the price? Not the human, no matter how much at fault. Do we really expect more wildlife to pack up and leave to 2% of remaining wilderness? The tone of some of the articles describing encounters with wildlife sounds like the bears are not supposed to be there and that they ‘attack’. Sorry, but we’re entering their home, what little is left.

                  There really isn’t time to react as a hiker, or as a rider guiding a horse, nor as a speeding bike rider.

      2. Nancy Avatar


        I thought my comment to you regarding “adding yet another layer of degradation to wilderness areas” was compelling and made a case. Still waiting for your thoughts.

        1. ToTheMoon Avatar

          Sorry, Nancy, I wrote something that didn’t post for some reason. You make an important point, but here’s my push back.

          All human use adds a “layer of degradation,” and what you are effectively saying is that the the level of degradation currently caused by you and other existing uses is juuuuust right, while any additional degradation from the possible inclusion of bicycles would be too much. Or perhaps you think that even current levels of user-related degradation are too high.

          Either way, what’s the right strategy for limiting or even reducing user-related degradation? If levels are already too high, shall we just kick out the equestrians and let foot travelers retain 100% access? Or how about we decide that only people above the age 40 can visit Wilderness? Or would it be better to look at all legitimate, non-motor trail users who have low or manageable impacts (feet, horses, bicycles, 40+ people) and figure out a balanced way to meet as much demand as possible to satisfy the community of outdoor enthusiasts who we all rely on to value and protect the land? Right now, we have a “bikes excluded” policy and that is becoming less sustainable over time as the recreation/conservation community has evolved to include more cyclists. That’s why this conversation is taking place.

          1. Rich Avatar

            Allen Tanner and TT Moon,

            A quick search shows your contention that mixing Mtn Bikers and hikers/equestrians does not lead to conflicts and safety issues on trails is completely false. There is a considerable amount of documentation to the contrary. Here is just one website covering the issue:


            And here are some clips from that site:

            * Trail incident leads to horse’s death on Santa Barbara Trails

            * Equestrians at Annadel State Park run through by mountain bikes; one
            horse broke leg and had to be euthanized

            * Mountain biker (riding illegally), after being warned to slow
            down, speeds into group of horses. 12 year old girl gets thrown and
            breaks arm

            * Prescott National Forest: Three horseback riders hit by speeding
            mountain biker, all had concussions and injuries

            *Kelly Schwarz reports: Prescott Area additional accidents caused
            by mountain bikers to equestrians-3 more riders seriously hurt

            * Elderly hiker Cedar River Trail in Renton Washington struck and
            killed by cyclist (April 2010, Renton Washington)

            * Jogger on Katy, Texas trail struck and killed by biker (October 2010)

            * Senior (80) confined to walker after being hit on White Rock Trail
            by biker (October 21, 2010)

            * Press Deomcrat, “Santa Rosa runners, cyclists abuzz on heels of injury crash,”
            jogger struck by hit and run biker. (Feb. 12, 2012)

            * Mountain Biker causes serious Equestrian Accident (Aug. 15. 2011)

            * MROSD lands, Husband and wife thrown from horses caused by speeding
            mountain biker

            * Rolly Steele, Mounted Patrol Woodside, Ca thrown and breaks his
            shoulder from incident with rogue mountain bikers

            * Letter from Connie Berto (Marin Horse Council) about a horse pushed
            off cliff by mountain bikers and had to be euthanized

            * Staci Wilson was involved in a serious riding accident brought
            about by a careless mountain bike rider riding downhill on a steep
            horse trail with his head down, and ran into Staci and her Icelandic
            gelding; rider knocked unconscious

            * Bike Trail accidents on Grants Trail, St. Louis, MO:There have
            been at least two in the past month. Bikers ran over walkers/runners
            on the path. One accident injured a woman’s back. The other knocked a
            woman over, scraped up her knees, elbow, her left
            side and possibly injured her left cheekbone

            * Rider thrown, says bike spooked equestrian,”A few kind words might
            have prevented this trail incident that reportedly resulted in a woman
            being thrown from her horse in Spring Gulch, Montana The woman said
            that passing bicycles startled her horse in Spring Gulch, Montana
            The woman said that passing bicycles startled her
            horse, causing it to buck. She said the cyclists did not speak and
            were moving too fast on the narrow trail.

            *My daughter had a grim experience when a mountain biker careened
            round the bridlepath & caused her horse to spin & bolt. She shot off
            the side & now has a fractured shoulder blade & spent 6 hours in A&E
            after being airlifted from the woods

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar


              First, neither I nor anyone I know has ever asserted that mixing bicycles with other users “does not lead to conflicts and safety issues” Of course incidents and conflict occur. But the question is how often it happens, how significant the problem is and what the proper response and policy should be.

              What you’ve done above is a straight copy/paste of a list of seemingly relevant incidents and anecdotes from the barely-functioning website of a famous anti-bicycle zealot. So it begs a little more investigation, don’t you think? Let’s dig a little deeper.

              Just to cut to the punchline, most of the links/incidents you’ve posted are essentially irrelevant to the issue we’re discussing, which is bicycles on backcountry trails, not road cyclists on 6 to 20 foot wide paved pathways in the city. But the important lesson for our immediate discussion is this: Anti-bicycle advocates have spent the last 30 years scouring every possible news story, internet forum and anecdote for evidence of how bicycles and other users cannot possibly share trails. They have publicized, repeated and amplified those stories at every possible opportunity. The result, as captured in the list you posted, is a total of about six incidents over a period of decades that seem to have relevance to our discussion. Considering that there are many hundreds of thousands (millions maybe?) of completely benign bicycle/horse/pedestrian interactions to weigh those incidents against, you can probably begin to appreciate the view of the cyclists. None of this is to say that we should ignore the safety and conflict concerns that have always been part of shared use trails (with or without bicycles), but we need to be smart about making management decisions.

              1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                Here’s the detail…

                The 1st link you provided refers to no bicycle incident at all. In fact, it’s an article about safety around horses from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. The headline is entirely misleading.

                The 2nd link you provided is dead, but it likely refers to an incident in Santa Barbara in 2005 where a horse was apparently startled by cyclists and fell off the trail, injuring its back and ultimately being euthanized. A very sad story but also rather unclear as to the cause of the incident. Irresponsible cyclists? A poorly trained horse? Irresponsible rider? Whatever the case, it’s certainly something that might imply some attention to management techniques to minimize such incidents.

                Your 3rd link is also dead, and I’m not sure what it’s referring to. Maybe someone else can fill us in so we can determine that the headline is not misleading like your first link.

                Your 4th link is live! It leads to an equestrian account of an incident in which an apparently irresponsible cyclist, riding on a closed trail, may have spooked a horse that threw its rider, causing a broken arm. It also contains a rather harrowing account of horses being dangerously out of control for reasons having nothing to do with bicycles. But the important point is that nobody in this current discussion is advocating illegal riding on trails where bicycles are not supposed to be. Allowing users on closed routes has always been a recipe for trouble.

                Your 5th link is semi-broken but can lead to an equestrian account from 2011 involving an apparently irresponsible cyclist (wearing ear buds? So stupid!) and at least one horse that the owner described as “not the best horse for the situation which would follow.” Nevertheless, the equestrian describes the cyclist as having his head down and apparently never seeing the horses, despite good line of sight, and running right into them. Panic and injury followed. Sounds horrible.

                Your 6th link refers to a very sad incident that has almost no relevance to the discussion we are having about bicycles sharing backcountry trails. The incident occurred on a paved, very wide (10-20 feet), converted rail trail and involved an 83-year-old woman being hit by a cyclist, striking her head and subsequently dying of her injuries. Just terrible. Thankfully, it’s extremely rare, even counting all the roadways in America.

                1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  and the rest…

                  Your 7th link, also dead, seems to refer to another incident that took place on a 20(?) foot wide, paved, multi-use pathway in the urban center of Dallas, TX. Another sad but irrelevant story.

                  Your 8th link is a similarly irrelevant discussion of the management challenges faced by wide, paved, multi-use paths. Nothing like what we are discussing in Wilderness.

                  Your 9th link is the same thing.

                  Your 10th link is also dead and it’s unclear what incident it refers to but it is yet another wide, paved, multi-use pathway in the urban center of Dallas, TX.

                  Your 11th link is yet another paved pathway, this one just 6 feet wide, where a jogger turned suddenly into the path of a road cyclist and was struck and injured. Irrelevant.

                  Your 12th link looks like a relevant and bona fide incident (congratulations!) in which a guided horse tour on an actual trail was spooked by an in inconsiderate cyclist, resulting in injury to a horse and quite a scare to the riders.

                  Link 13 is a loooong story from 2000 about user conflict in the extremely conflict-rich San Francisco bay area and includes one equestrian account of a specific incident of equestrians being thrown from their horses after being spooked by cyclists. Also includes references to other incidents of trail conflict short of actual collision or injury.

                  Link 14 is the minutes of a 2006 public meeting in the County Of Mateo, California where at least 34 members of the public testified regarding trail management issues. One speaker gave an account of “rogue” (meaning on an illegal trail?) mountain bikers spooking his horse and causing him injury.

                  Link 15 includes a second-hand account of an equestrian being struck by an inattentive cyclist and seriously injured as a result. It’s unclear what the conditions were or what kind of “trail” the incident occurred on. Sounds bad nonetheless.

                  Link 16 is yet another wide, paved, urban multi-use pathway with essentially no relevance to the issue at hand.

                  Link 17 – Dead link and can’t find any info in brief google search. Anybody know details?

                  Link 18 is a live 2010 message board where a mother reports that her daughter was thrown from her horse after being startled by a cyclist on a “bridal path.” Sounds like a nasty experience. Many of the other comments observe that the problem is with uneducated cyclists who don’t know how to behave around horses. The suggested solutions: education and awareness.

          2. Nancy Avatar


            No, I’m not saying that the layer of existing degradation is juuuust right. I’m saying WHY add more layers?
            You are the one (and other cyclists) pushing for even more degradation in wilderness areas regardless of the fact that YOU already have access to these areas.

            Thousands of miles of mountain biking trails, in rugged, pristine areas, across the country (and probably just as many illegal ones)


            So what’s the true goal here? Add more “notches” to your handle bars by opening up even more pristine, rugged, wilderness areas? Not just to ride bikes on but then oh and yeah, lets not forget, they’ve got to be maintained, putting even more stress on habitat & wildlife.

            Its interesting to note Montana & Idaho are not well represented on that list of 300 trails. Wonder why that is?

        2. ToTheMoon Avatar

          Here’s an article (obviously favorable toward some inclusion of bicycles) that touches on some of the good questions you raise.


  11. Jeff Avatar

    The biggest threat to wilderness is the division of likely allies by extremists with a no compromise strategy. I’m sure CEOs of extractive energy companies chuckle and applaud when infighting among bikers and wilderness purists stops wilderness plans in their tracks. Too bad compromise has fallen upon bad times.

    1. Kathleen Avatar

      A mere 2.7% of the contiguous U.S. is designated in the National Wilderness Preservation System–places that are among the wildest of the wild. Why should wilderness advocates be expected to compromise the fundamentals?–prohibitions on roads, motor vehicles, motorized equipment, motorboats, aircraft landings, other forms of mechanical transport, and structures or installations? Where do compromises end?

      1. ToTheMoon Avatar

        “Where do compromises end?” They end where we all agree they should end. At the moment, the compromise ends just after boots, horses, boats, skis, snow shoes, mobile phones, GPS, Kevlar, titanium, Gore-Tex, micro-filtration, a range of miracle materials and host of other modern technologies. That has worked pretty well for several decades.

        But meanwhile our conservation/recreation community has evolved to include a significant number of people who enjoy backcountry cycling. So, if we all agree, we can decide that our compromise should include bicycles…and maybe baby strollers and game carts. But the point is that we can set the limit where we like based on what best serves the Wilderness and the community it depends on. The alternative may be a divided outdoor community bickering over whose choice of equipment is more offensive while the real enemies of Wilderness get ready to dictate to us all where THEY think the compromise should be. And I can guarantee that it looks absolutely nothing like a few bicycles.

        1. Mr. Hand Avatar
          Mr. Hand

          I’m against game carriers, strollers and wheelbarrows, because the people using them are slower than me when I’m hiking and get in my way, especially the game carrier loaded with that beautiful buck that was alive just hours earlier.

        2. Jeff Avatar

          Spot on moon, in the attempt to preserve only the purest activities, Exxon get one more lease approved—laughing all the way. Under current law game carts aren’t precluded, wheels aren’t mechanized unless their is some mechanical advantage with gears.

      2. ToTheMoon Avatar

        “A mere 2.7%” Ok, so you’d be fine if you were completely excluded from that 110 million acres? Or would you ask why?

        1. Kathleen Avatar

          Like you, I’m already excluded from 110 million acres on my mountain bike and yes, I’m fine with that. Why? Because I believe that Howard Zahniser got it right. Because I’m a wilderness advocate first and a wilderness user second. And because it’s not all about me.

          1. ToTheMoon Avatar

            So you’d volunteer to be excluded from all Wilderness? After all, it’s not all about you, right?

  12. Kathleen Avatar

    Nancy…earlier you said “…IMHO, there ought to be wilderness areas designated where mankind (and our livestock) can’t step one foot in, period.”

    Ten of those exist…most administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Svc. For example, here’s one, West Sister Island in Lake Erie (OH), a refuge for birds:

    Another is Mesa Verde Wilderness (Nat’l Park Svc, CO)–closed to humans to protect wildlife and cultural resources:

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Thanks Kathleen, good to know ten exist.

  13. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    When I read this article, I ask what is the purpose and need to allow bikes in WSA and designated wildernesses?

    Is there a need to provide more recreational opportunities on our public lands such as mountain biking and if so, how and where should trails be constructed? Considering that only 2.3% of the US (taken from Kathleen above) consists of designated wilderness with an additional very minor amount in WSA’s, it would seem that opportunities abound for additional bike trail construction throughout the US (US Government is largest landowner in US and is owned by the public). The BLM and US Forest Service are pro-recreation agencies (including mountain bike riding) and if done with THEIR approval, will facilitate the construction and/or use of trial riding.

    Speaking of experience working for the BLM; conflicts between different users (i.e. horses, hikers, bikers) and potential environmental degradation (typically minor mitigation measures were needed) were NOT big issues. The big issues were when bike groups constructed trails WITHOUT approval such as the author mentioned above and who would construct and maintain the new trails.

    It seems like a win-win to keep bikes out of wildernesses while providing additional riding opportunities on our vast public lands. The US Forest Service has and continues to close hundreds of miles of logging roads each year which could be utilized along with connector trails to provide more riding opportunities. Let em ride!

    1. Mr. Hand Avatar
      Mr. Hand

      Logging roads are about as interesting to ride a bicycle on as they are to hike. Would you agree?

      Keep in mind that with any new Wilderness designation, the inventory of remote and challenging trails in our most scenic lands decreases for mountain biking. Replacing them with new trails outside of Wilderness(which will typically be multi-use, not bike only) can easily be a 10+ year process.

    2. ToTheMoon Avatar

      Thank you for the thoughtful post and questions, Gary. As you can imagine, I’m pleased to see a professional land manager confirm the fundamental argument that cycling is a manageable use and that trail sharing generally works well. But you ask a big question that a lot of people seem to echo in some manner: Why bikes in Wilderness at all?

      Putting aside the absolutely deceptive silliness of the statistic about 2.3% (or whatever it is) of the ENTIRE PHYSICAL LAND MASS of the US, the other way to look at it is this: 100% (or whatever it is) of the most beautiful, remote, awe-inspiring natural areas of the country are off limits to a user group that, as you mention, is generally manageable, safe and sustainable, just like the users who are allowed. We can also just flip the question around: If Wilderness is a mere 2.3% of the country, then hikers and equestrians should be perfectly happy kicking themselves out for the better good. Ain’t gonna happen, nor should it. And the reason they don’t want to leave is the same reason that cyclists want to get in.

      But let’s be clear, cyclists are only asking for, and will only ever get, access to a small fraction of Wilderness trails. Many are unsuitable (terrain or potential conflict), many are unnecessary (alternative routes available) and many can simply be places for compromise and cooperation. But none of that discussion can happen while the Wilderness Act is interpreted to exclude bicycles entirely. The reason we’re talking about it so much now is that new Wilderness is being proposed all the time and, increasingly, it is kicking cyclists out of lands that they previously shared. I hope that all helps to answer your question.

    3. Kathleen Avatar

      Gary, about 5% of the total US is designated wilderness, and 2.7% of the contiguous 48 states. Needless to say, Alaska has a lot of wilderness, and Hawai’i has a bit.

      Wilderness acres by state, and per cent total of the Nat’l Wilderness Preservation System:

    4. Jeff Avatar

      The purpose is to build a coalition of like minded users to prevent development of lands and to achieve wilderness designation. Human powered sports should be fine. Instead of working together politicians shrewdly drive wedges between various groups to prevent the formation of any new wilderness.

  14. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Everyone knows that horses are easily spooked, and are not small animals. When a mountain biker comes barrel-assing around a corner or down the trail, it’s isn’t rocket science to guess what might happen. If my horse or myself were severely injured because of a careless person, I’d be upset. It’s easy to see how there could be a close call and accidents.

    Suggesting that it was the horse’s fault and that the horse might be ‘poorly trained’ is shocking and false. No creature could be trained to anticipate all of the behaviors of human beings, including other humans! The human is supposedly more trainable? More and more today, humans are poorly trained in good manners, on the road and anywhere else.

    As someone said, the majority of lands are open already. Leave some alone. If mountain bikers are going to ride, let it be where they can’t hurt anyone. To think that there won’t be comflicts is, as usual, overly optimistic.

    1. ToTheMoon Avatar


      I’m not sure who you are arguing with here. Nobody is saying that there will be zero conflict. But you are saying that horses, even the well-trained ones, are easily spooked so the rest of the trails community should get the hell out of the way so that you can retain access to essentially 100% of the public trails. To me, that is not a reasonable, fair or good policy.

      I gather that you have some experience with horses, which is why it is perplexing to me that you think there are not vast differences in the behavior of horses depending on their training and experience. I’ve been around horses that started at the mere sight of a motionless bicycle, and I’ve been pursued down the trail on my bicycle by a horse at either a canter or maybe it was a full gallop. The rider was a good friend and his horse either loved to play with bicycles or was at least extremely comfortable around them. Differently trained animals (and riders) have very different potential for experiencing negative incidents. That’s not to say that every horse (or rider) cannot be startled, but at some point there is some level of shared responsibility for outcomes on the trail. ALL trail users need to behave responsibly.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        No, the bike rider has to accommodate the conditions he or she encounters. An animal cannot respond as a human. Every animal, as you say, reacts differently, and that isn’t something that can be changed simply by suggesting that they can be trained better.

        The human is the one who is better able to adjust their behaviors (so I’m told) to fit in with hikers and riders, and to anticipate an accident, not the other way around. A bike rider’s chose form of recreation can cause harm, so they are the ones who need to adjust, not demand that horses, wildlife, and other people who have just as much right to be there accommodate them.

        I actually read something that suggested that in order to avoid ‘undue conflicts’, that bikers, hikers and riders go in ‘shifts’.

        From the HCN:

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Some people have great senses of humor, from the first comment:

          “There’s even a clause in the bill that okays the use of motorized equipment (e.g. chainsaws, etc..) to make keeping the mountain bike trails in wilderness open easier because everyone knows nothing keeps the sense of the primeval closer than the buzz of a chainsaw.”


          It’s funny, I step over tree roots, not bust right through them, when I am hiking.

          1. ToTheMoon Avatar

            Ida, I don’t know where you pulled that quote from but it’s incorrect or misleading in several ways. First, chainsaws and other hand tools are currently allowed in Wilderness, but rarely used apparently because of the land agencies being overly cautious. And that’s a little odd because the agencies are clear that they are unable to keep up with the backlog of trail maintenance that they are supposed to do. Chainsaws and other tools are used to keep trails open for everyone, including you. If you don’t think trails should be maintained, you should take that up with the agencies because that would be a policy change that has nothing to do with bicycles.

            1. Kathleen Avatar

              “First, chainsaws and other hand tools are currently allowed in Wilderness, but rarely used apparently because of the land agencies being overly cautious.”

              The statement above is incorrect. Wilderness managers learn to use crosscut saws and other human-powered tools to conform with the requirements in the Wilderness Act for preserving wilderness character. If a situation occurs where significant management action is deemed necessary, wilderness managers first conduct a Minimum Requirement Analysis to determine the appropriate tool and then use the “minimum necessary.”

              “…the minimum requirements concept is to first determines if any management action is necessary in wilderness, and then determine how to accomplish the action using the least amount (if any) of an otherwise prohibited use, such as the use of chainsaws or motorized vehicles. Forest Service Policy, for example, requires, with few exceptions, the use of traditional tools, such as cross-cut saws, and that employees acquire and maintain skills to travel and work in wilderness.”


              1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                Ida Lupine

                Yes, that ‘quote’ is actually a provision for maintenance of trails in the proposed Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, sponsored by Mike Lee of UT and co-sponsored by Orin Hatch and Jeff Flake.
                The scary part is that if no action is taken or is incomplete at the end of two years, the bill will sail right through, without an environmental impact study or anything. So impacts of mountain bikes will remain vague.


                1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  Ida, When you have to resort to putting the word “quote” inside quotations marks, as you just did, something is fishy. So just to be clear, the passage you pasted originally does not appear in the proposed legislation so I asked where you got it from. You still haven’t answered that but I imagine you simply cut/paste it from some forum where the original writer was mischaracterizing the legislation. Hence my correction. And here’s another one.

                  You’re mischaracterizing the 2-year window for agency action. First, if the legislation becomes law, agencies will then have 2 years to make a determination about which trails the agency wishes to open or keep closed to bicycles. The legislation does not compel the completion of an EIS in order to keep a trail closed or open. The agency can simply point to the need for an EIS – or any number of other factors or considerations – and maintain the current closure beyond the 2-year period. And after the 2-year window, the agency can still close any trail it wants to, even if it initially opened that trail. In short, the agencies retain full authority to manage the trails as they do now. I hope that’s a helpful clarification.

              2. ToTheMoon Avatar

                I think your input is good but is not a complete answer. Nor was my post.

                Yes, Minimum Requirement Analysis is generally required for work in the Wilderness (and elsewhere) and there is often an opportunity to complete necessary, required or mandated work with hand tools. The big qualifier here is that agencies are NOT completing the work, and that is often because they are choosing to use hand tools that are actually BENEATH the minimum requirement for actually getting the work done. That’s where the problem of agencies being overly cautious comes up. It’s easy to find agency personnel who complain about the minimum tool analysis that actually prevents them from doing the job. That’s NOT how the Minimum Requirement Analysis is supposed to work. That’s my understanding but I’m no expert on this particular issue so maybe you or others would care to elaborate.

                1. Mr. Hand Avatar
                  Mr. Hand

                  In the Smoky Mountain National Park, we have a seasonal “chainsaw window” where chainsaws are used in Wilderness.

                  “In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the current chainsaw-window, available for Park trail maintenance each spring, is an example of such discretion. Additionally, a distinction is often made between occasional reconstruction efforts and routine maintenance. According to both the Wilderness Act and the Organic Act, anyone working in the Park’s backcountry should not use mechanized equipment as a matter of routine when alternatives are available, even if those alternatives seem to require greater effort. Nevertheless, major reconstruction projects that, upon completion, leave an area with characteristics closer to those envisioned in the Wilderness Act and the NPS Organic Act appropriately could involve mechanized or motorized equipment.”

                2. Kathleen Avatar

                  “In the Smoky Mountain National Park, we have a seasonal “chainsaw window” where chainsaws are used in Wilderness.”

                  Just to be clear, there’s no congressionally designated wilderness in the Great Smokies NP. (Wilderness areas in the Nat’l Park system: )

                  …although “Additional national park areas are managed as “recommended” or “proposed” wilderness until Congress acts on their status.”

                3. Nancy Avatar

                  “That’s my understanding but I’m no expert on this particular issue so maybe you or others would care to elaborate”

                  Elaborating and I ask again, ToTheMoon, do those, that have thousands of miles of trails to play on, around this country, need to add yet another layer of degradation to wilderness areas?

                  You’ve yet to give a compelling response, TTM.

                4. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  Nancy writes: “You’ve yet to give a compelling response, TTM.”

                  I’ve repeated this several times but now I’ll use as much of your own language to see if I can get my answer and my point across: Do those that have ALL of the miles of trails to play on around this country (that’s you), need to exclude another legitimate user group (cyclists) while refusing to reduce their own (that’s you) existing layer of degradation to wilderness areas? Your perspective amounts to little more than an “I got here first!” argument.

                  In other words, if we accept (and I don’t think you do) that hikers, equestrians and cyclists are all legitimate visitors to the Wilderness, why is it that just two groups get to pile on 100% of the Wilderness degradation while the other group (cyclists) are told to stay away. THAT is the question that YOU have not answered. And since you are the one who advocates for continued exclusion, the burden is on you to justify it. If your sincere goal is to limit degradation, then you should be happy to consider ways to do that, including restricting your own access so that other legitimate users can enjoy some access to the public land.

                  If you believe that the Wilderness cannot withstand any increased visitation (which is nonsense simply because not all Wilderness is the same) then you MUST be opposed to every Sierra Club, National Geographic, American Hiking Society and children’s outdoor school program in the country that promotes and encourages outdoor engagement. If you don’t want to “add a layer of degradation” to the Wilderness, then you should be seeking cooperative ways to reduce degradation without simply dismissing the pleas of legitimate users.

        2. Mr. Hand Avatar
          Mr. Hand

          Ida, what can we do about backpackers spooking horses?

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            I was going to mention that, that horses’ ancestry is as a prey species, so they are very alert and aware of danger.

            I see them regularly where I live, I just am quiet, say hello to the riders and the horses, don’t make any unpredictable moves or be loud. I once came upon two grazing in a field and their riders were sitting on a bench – the horses didn’t even look up as I passed, and chatted a little bit with their riders. I love to see them. Another time, I encountered a riderless horse, he or she didn’t look to happy, so we kept our distance. Later on, the horse’s rider was on the ground, with a group of other horses and riders. The horse must have run off! Some places have a separate trail for horses.

            Basically, it’s slow and quiet. You can hear people approaching for quite a distance and can anticipate most things. And what they leave behind is biodegradable and good for the soil, and I don’t believe poses a health hazard as other animals, nor for getting into water supplies, not like plastic and aluminum. I wouldn’t think backpackers would present too much of a problem, might not even encounter them too much?

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar

              Wow, Ida. I was assuming that you were an experienced horse rider, which is why I found your comments so surprising. But do I understand correctly from your comment above that you seldom (or never) ride a horse? That certainly might explain your assertion that there is essentially no practical difference between a trained and experienced trail horse (and rider) and one that is skittish and unaccustomed to trail conditions. And no – nobody is saying that even a well-trained horse can’t be startled.

              By the way, horses have been getting spooked by hikers, dogs, gusts of wind, sudden sounds, rock slides, etc. forever. Bicycles add one more factor to the list and, in general, we’ve been managing them very successfully on shared use trails all over the country for several decades, hence the extremely low rate of serious incidents, especially in backcountry settings, which is what we’re talking about.

              1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                Ida Lupine

                Wait, wait, wait a minute – I wasn’t saying there is no practical difference! How on earth did you come up with that? What I’m saying that it isn’t the bike rider’s call to make, what may be lacking or not about others out there. We have to expect that conditions are not going to be perfect and plan accordingly.

                The bike rider has to be the one who is aware also, and makes the accommodations for the fact not all animals will respond the same way, not all are trained the same, and not all riders are experienced, either. Just as hikers and equestrians have to be aware of dangers ahead.

                Bike riders are going very fast compared to hikers and riders, and it is difficult to compensate under those conditions unless all pay attention. The tone of your posts seems to suggest that bike riders don’t have to accommodate anyone, and it’s the horse’s fault. Maybe the bike rider isn’t so hot either, in many cases. I think you are overly optimistic about how you all manage. Over the summer a bike rider ran into a grizzly with cubs and was killed.

                I was reading the other day that Marin County has to try to keep mountain bike riders down to 15 mph. How they enforce it I have no idea.

                1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                  Ida Lupine

                  Officials: West Glacier Biker Collided with Bear Before Fatal Attack

                  That was the title of the article, but I don’t like to see the word ‘attack’ because the implication is that it was one-sided and unprovoked. Note that the first sentence says ‘riding his bike at high speed on a narrow trail’.

                2. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  Ida wrote: “I wasn’t saying there is no practical difference [between a well trained horse and a poorly trained horse]! How on earth did you come up with that?”

                  Here’s how. You wrote: “Suggesting that it was the horse’s fault and that the horse might be ‘poorly trained’ is shocking and false.” Look, Ida, if you accept that there are dramatic differences among horses, then what word other than “responsibility” would you like me to use when describing the role of the person who brought the poorly-trained horse out onto the trail?

                  I have NEVER indicated that cyclists do not need to be aware of conditions and of other trail users and should not anticipate that EVERY horse is poorly trained. But if an incident occurs and it turns out that the horse (and possibly rider) had no business on the trail, then the equestrian should share in the culpability. This entire kerfuffle stems from a single (maybe two) incidents I highlighted (actually, I was just responding to someone else’s post) where there was some kind of incident where a horse was spooked by a cyclists but we had no real information at all beyond that, including info about the skill or preparation of the horse and rider, not to mention the cyclist.

                  Please ignore “the tone” of my posts, but please feel free to criticize the specific assertions and arguments I make. I have NEVER asserted that ANY trail user does not have to “accommodate” any other trail user. Cyclists are the relatively new kid on the block so it is particularly incumbent on them to be sensitive to other, established users. But that does not absolve other trail users of their responsibilities and it does not mean that cyclists are 2nd class trail users, which is exactly how trail access policy has treated them for several decades.

                  And please, for the sake of the integrity of discussions like these,
                  try to refrain from posting individual, isolated anecdotes (like a bear/bike encounter) as if it’s some kind of zinger that should influence anybody’s views regarding matters of public policy. Should I post an anecdote about a hiker blundering into a bear and getting mauled to death? Would my anecdote cancel out your anecdote? By the way, since you brought it up, did you ever wonder how anybody could possibly have determined that the cyclist actually collided with the bear? Maybe somebody can explain that to me.

            2. Louise Kane Avatar
              Louise Kane

              I think wilderness areas should be that
              Tbe least human impact possible
              No dogs
              Man made paths
              There ought to be areas set aside for regeneration of wildlife
              No hunting
              No interference
              And s little human presence as possible

              1. ToTheMoon Avatar

                Those are beautiful and inspirational thoughts, Louise. “Least human impact” would mean no humans, of course. But that is not the model for land preservation in this country. Even all the great luminaries of conservation and preservation were outdoorsmen (and women) who recognized the value and importance of either allowing or actively encouraging people to engage with, explore and venerate natural places. Those are the folks who lobby and vote for land protection.

                1. Louise Kane Avatar
                  Louise Kane

                  therein lies the reason I used the words, least human impact possible.

                  I understand that in most instances humans are incapable of conserving anything for anything other than a human centric value…

                  the ideal should still be strived for

                  as Kathleen and others pointed out the law itself provides for the underlying intent to maintain wilderness areas for non motorized and mechanized use.

                  arguments to the contrary are purely semantic.

                2. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  Louise wrote: “arguments to the contrary are purely semantic.” Are they? Or is that a way to try to shut down a legitimate discussion of the intent of the Wilderness Act? As I asked Kathleen earlier, if I were to show you evidence that the authors of the Wilderness Act did NOT intend to exclude bicycles, wheelbarrows and game carts, would that have any impact on your views? Kathleen never answered me except to say that she likes the way the WA has been interpreted so she didn’t seem interested in a discussion of original intent.

                3. Louise kane Avatar
                  Louise kane

                  If you mean that the act did not specifically exclude mountain bikes by name I think you need to Remy in intent and logical inference

                  I’m betting drones hang gliders or small motorized boats were not specifically excluded either but would be if they had been percieved as a threat to the sanctity of wilderness that seems to have been envisioned

                  If you have evidence to the contrary please by all means present away

                4. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  Louise wrote: “If you mean that the act did not specifically exclude mountain bikes by name…”

                  No, that is not what I meant. What matters for the argument about intent is not what we imagine or wish the intent was, but what it actually was in the minds of the authors. If you believe that “…no other form of mechanical transport.” tacked onto the end of a list of motorized vehicles was not an attempt to make sure that all motorized vehicles were clearly excluded and instead was an attempt to capture and exclude every form of mechanical transport technology that wasn’t motorized, then there is an obvious hypocrisy if you don’t also oppose modern skis, oar locks, some climbing gear, etc. Those are clearly mechanical and clearly they aid in transport.

                  But if we want to get as close as possible to a real answer about intent, we have to look at some history. Such things are seldom crystal clear, but let’s see what evidence we can find.

                  In 1966, right on the heals of the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, USFS proposed and adopted its regulations for Wilderness management and it legally defined “mechanical transport” as “…propelled by a non-living power source.” It wasn’t until 1984 that bicycles and a few other wheeled things were specifically excluded in new regulations. Here are some potentially useful (and hopefully functioning) links.

                  Just prior to the 1984 regulation, there’s this 1982 communication from the USFS Director of Recreation:

                  And here’s a bunch of documentation from the time of the Wilderness Act:

                  Specifically there is this interesting exchange in the congressional testimony as legislators question agency staff:

                  I don’t want to clog up this comment with too many links but you’re probably getting the idea that what some people wish “mechanical transport” to mean may not be what it actually meant when it was being written and discussed. The cyclists are just saying that all this evidence points to a reason to discuss the issue without having their views summarily dismissed by people who may be projecting their own, modern-day desires onto the Wilderness Act.

              2. Mr. Hand Avatar
                Mr. Hand

                Louise – Since there are far fewer people who ride bikes and/or horses than hikers and backpackers, how about allowing only mountain biking and horseback riding in Wilderness (no hiking) in order to keep the human impact down?

                1. Louise kane Avatar
                  Louise kane

                  How about rewriting the act to suit your needs?
                  Just start over
                  That is a puss poor argument mr hand

      2. Elk375 Avatar


        Horses always have the right-away on any Forest Service Trail
        . You really do not know much about horses, do you

        1. ToTheMoon Avatar

          Elk375, Perhaps I was unclear. I’m not talking about right of way or the “rules of the trail,” I’m talking about the sense of entitlement that someone shows when they insist that conflict (real or imaginary) be resolved entirely at the expense of the other guy by excluding the other guy from the land. That’s the current Wilderness policy.

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            BUT, you are NOT excluded from the land.

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar

              I’ll try just one more time to make this point. I’ll put it in the form of a direct question in the hope that your answer will give you a chance to make your opinion clear.

              If we tell Wilderness visitors that they must leave their horses, skis, snow shoes, hiking poles, boats, climbing gear and other equipment at home, they will NOT be excluded from the land, right?

              1. Immer Treue Avatar
                Immer Treue

                False equivalence, as all the others are already allowable. Those who truly value wilderness areas, some areas serving as a last redoubt for certain wildlife, would have no qualms of leaving those areas alone.

                1. Louise Kane Avatar
                  Louise Kane


                2. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  “all the others are already allowable.” No kidding. That’s the entire reason we’re having this conversation.

                  False equivalence? Hmmm, let’s see. Everything I listed, including bicycles, is a piece of mechanical equipment that people use to help transport themselves in Wilderness.

                  “Those who truly value wilderness areas, some areas serving as a last redoubt for certain wildlife, would have no qualms of leaving those areas alone.” Maybe so, and if we left it up to that tiny subset of noble people, we’d have no Wilderness left to talk about because you have to be delusional to believe that virtually any large scale land protection would take place if humans were totally excluded. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and advocate for total human exclusion from Wilderness and see how far you get.

                3. Immer Treue Avatar
                  Immer Treue

                  You’re twisting words and phrases like someone else who posts here occasionally. “Some areas” morphs into this diatribe, “we’d have no wilderness left to talk about…”

                  “Go ahead and advocate for total human exclusion from wilderness…”

                  The only thing that will save woodland caribou.

                4. JB Avatar

                  “…we’d have no Wilderness left to talk about because you have to be delusional to believe that virtually any large scale land protection would take place if humans were totally excluded.”

                  Ah but forcing people to be on foot allows for de facto NEAR exclusion, at least of interior areas. So, in effect, we already have what you say is impossible–and you’re trying to take it away.

                5. ToTheMoon Avatar

                  JB Writes: “Ah but forcing people to be on foot allows for de facto NEAR exclusion, at least of interior areas. So, in effect, we already have what you say is impossible–and you’re trying to take it away.” First, there is a HUGE difference between “You are prohibited from entering” and “This may be challenging.” But what you say partly correct in that some Wilderness areas see frequent deep visitation while other see relatively little, which is all the more reason to manage those Wilderness areas in a manner that suits their specific circumstance.

  15. Rich Avatar


    You said “Perhaps I was unclear. I’m not talking about right of way or the “rules of the trail,” I’m talking about the sense of entitlement that someone shows when they insist that conflict (real or imaginary) be resolved entirely at the expense of the other guy by excluding the other guy from the land.”.

    You are absolutely correct in that your comments are “unclear” and nothing but verbal feinting and dodging, dragging out tired old red herrings, making up your own facts and smoke and mirrors like a deranged magician. Your contentions are all about you and your perceived “entitlement”. You should have learned in kindergarten that you are not the center of the universe and the world is not like Burger King so you don’t always get it your way. You seem incapable of understanding that riding willy nilly on narrow trails that are not designed for cycling, puts the safety of hikers, equestrians, bird watchers, photographers, nature enthusiasts and others engaged in enjoying the solitude and relaxed pace of the natural world at risk. Contrary to your assertions, there is an abundance of information on the risks of mixing mtn bikes and hikers and equestrians and the resultant injury and death caused by mtn bike riders. Just try extracting yourself from the “me-me-me” mode. Then do a little research on the accidents and near misses, many of which go unreported, that cyclists have caused on trails used by hikers and equestrians and grow up and quit your incessant whining.

    1. ToTheMoon Avatar

      You’re stating very clearly that someone who enjoys and insists on totally unfettered access to the public land does not have an entitled attitude, but someone who is asking to be merely considered for some modest level of access to that same public land is entitled. That’s quite an argument indeed.

      “…there is an abundance of information on the risks of mixing mtn bikes and hikers and equestrians and the resultant injury and death caused by mtn bike riders.” Please post links to that data. Somebody already tried that earlier in the comments and it turned out to be mostly misleading or irrelevant. If you have better or more credible sources, please share them with us. I have no doubt that some incidents go unreported. But what also goes unreported, because it is so totally unremarkable, are the millions of perfectly friendly and uneventful encounters among trails users that take place everyday.

      Linked below a very large study (largest ever in the country?) from the State of California on the topic of user conflict and safety. Although it laments the lack of consistent data gathering by agencies, it does include the following summary statement: “Though the research results reflect primarily informed opinion rather than empirical data, there is clear evidence that accidents are rare compared to the number of incidents, and actual incidents tend to be rare in relation to the extent of comments and complaints about conflict between trail user types.”

      1. Rich Avatar

        TT Moonman,

        You have chosen an appropriate name as you seem to be living on the moon and unable to understand even the simplest explanation that you are NOT excluded from Wilderness areas. You are like the drunk that stumbled into a light pole. After walking around it clockwise several times and then counterclockwise a few times he finally gave up and sat down thinking he was surrounded. You are experiencing the same problem. Perhaps you have inhaled a little too much weed, consumed too much Old Turkey or you and your bike have gone autoerotic on us. Sober up and focus whatever brain cells you have and quit whining that you are excluded.

        “And here’s to you, Mr. Moonman
        We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
        We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
        Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
        Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home…”

  16. Kayla Avatar

    There are some here on this thread who have mentioned that wilderness areas should be closed to people. This irks me to No End!!!! When people say this, what they are really saying is that all people – humans should be restricted to the cities and towns where they will be nothing but dumbed down serfs and consumers to the Great Military and Industrial Complex! Shame On Those that Above Advocated For This View!

    Yes I personally am against mountain bikes in wilderness. But I know several mountain bikers who are great people and love the land. I also know several hunters horseback people who LOVE wilderness and are wonderful people. There are always those few bad apples that spoil it for everyone else. But I STRONGLY STRONGLY STRONGLY SUPPORT continual usage of our wilderness and wild areas by us people thru either hiking, camping, horseback riding, etc. Anymore am hearing certain environmentalists who get on this bandwagon and think for the benefit of the environment, all backcountry wilderness areas should be closed to people. SHAME ON YOU if you are of this ILK!!!! This Planet is our planet also. We people need the backcountry wilderness as much as the wild creatures do. Yes there is indeed the right way and the wrong way when traveling rather by horse or foot in these backcountry wilds areas. But we people need these wild areas also, espicelly for out own sanity! Something is wrong do think on many of these people who never get out into the wilds. I am now 60 years old and since I was 21 have been hiking and backpacking extensively all over the American West. It has been the best thing ever! Again we people, as much as the other life on this planet, need to be in and have access to these wild places. To ban people from any all of these wild places and areas would more or less force people to be ONLY in the cities and towns of the world being nothing but freaking consumers for the military and industrial complex. Hell to this Military and Industrial Complex!!! I personally HATE HATE HATE this thought of being nothing but a consumer because of economics and such. Personally do think that the Hunters – Gatherer Societies of the world like the American Indians, the Australian Aborigines, the Bushmen in Africa, etc. had it right bigtime!!! And we modern humans with our modern way of life, our freaking techno and economics, etc. ways have it all wrong bigtime. We people need badly to get back with the land, the earth, like these societies in the old days lived. Just maybe this was one reason Donald Trump won the election, for some people have gotten tired of all of these bigtime restrictions that certain environmentalists have tried to put on everything connected to the land. I can see it with some of them, that one would need a freaking permit which one would have to pay a big big wad of money for, just to go on a simple hour long dayhike in some park near some city or town. God forbid that we humans have some activity and love to do some pursuit where we want to go where it is all natural, wild, and nice and we do not spend more money where the big millionaires and billionaires get even more rich on our lowly consumer serfs account. It seems some environmentalists need to get out themselves out into some wild place bigtime. Again to end, SHAME on those who want to close off any backcountry wild place to all human activity espicelly including closed to all hiking or horseback riding, and camping and such. Like an old sign that I once say: ‘At The End Of The Road Where The Trails and Life Begin’.

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Now should add this to the above … some really need to get out of their box and really ‘Enjoy’ the beauty (in the right way with love and respect for everything), and the wild places that are left here on our planet, and to really experience the wilds. Thru the years some environmentalists have criticized me for using the edible and medicinal plants in my wild sojourns because I was killing plants. I have also been criticized by some for going offtrail in wilderness areas. And by some for even going into the wilderness areas. I live here in little Jackson Hole, Wyoming and also have been criticized by some for my simple lifestyle, and in their eyes, I should move to some city whereby I could dedicate my life to ‘helping” people. Sheesh!!!! Now thru the years have freely shared my experiences with others, including some photos. But for some people in this day and age, this I guess is just not right how I have lived my life for my wild sojourns. As Thoreau said,”Wilderness is the salvation of the world”.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Never thought I’d be saying this to you Kayla, given the many wonderful comments you’ve made about your experiences in wild places BUT at what point do humans stop encouraging other humans to “love wild places to death” hiking, biking, etc. etc. in them and start realizing wild places amount to much, much more than places WE might want to enjoy?

        To put it in human terms, these places are held dear by other species/beings, who just want to exist with a minimal amount of human interference.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Now there’s a great topic for discussion & debate – where did the idea of the destruction of wilderness areas globally, originate from?

    2. Kathleen Avatar

      Kayla, the National Wilderness Preservation System was established *for* the America people, and that is stated directly in the Act: “…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.”
      “…”wilderness areas”…shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character…”

      So that’s the law of the land and no one is saying (to my knowledge) that all human animals should be excluded from all wilderness areas under any and all circumstances. But we ARE charged with leaving them unimpaired for future generations–surely you don’t deny that there must be *some* limits in *some* places that can’t bear the hammering they get from overuse, or that those places with extremely sensitive nonhuman animal or plant communities should be protected and allowed to exist?!? Sometimes that means closing them off (as mentioned earlier, 10 wilderness areas permit no visitation, but that’s only 10 out of 765) or instituting a permit system for wildly popular places to protect them and to ensure solitude for human visitors–for example,

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I agree with Kayla.

      We are already suffering from lack of exposure to the outdoors whether it be exposure to pure wilderness, backcountry, roaded camping and so on. Too many people are substituting virtual natural experience for the real thing. These two are quite different. Virtual enthusiasts tend not to fight as hard to protect the outdoors, and yet they are also often too radical to be taken seriously (such as advocating human free wilderness areas).

    1. Mat-ters Avatar

      TTM, This has been an interesting thread. Your courage and passion for your cause shows. Have a happy holiday season….. I think I just heard some Reindeer traffic on the back porch. I better go investigate…. rumor has it that a bicycle (of the stationary kind) was seen in Santa’s sleigh.

  17. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    In regards to being a threat to future wilderness designation, mountain bikes are like a single knat buzzing around your face while politicians and extractors are a full fledged swarm of killer bees. I rarely read where a county commissioner stands up for wild places. Bottom line for them sadly is 99% economic development and to heck with being great stewards of the land.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Wow. Well, there’s the hope some had for people doing the right thing. Voted for Trump, don’t care one whit about climate change and opposing of any kind of environmental protections for the future.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        They take a ‘moratorium’ for Christmas Day, and then it’s right back to rape, pillage and plunder the very next day. Ain’t humanity grand.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Did anyone read this article from the HCN?

          “Bryce Canyon under Siege”

          I know that people like to idealize getting everyone out into the wilderness and back country, I understand that – but:

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            Does anyone see the irony in people ‘driving their cars’ into the middle of national parks and bringing their modern conveniences with them? The need for more parking lots to accommodate more and more people? I know there is an epidemic of obesity and something called a ‘nature deficit disorder’, but people are not getting out and exercising for the most part – driving cars and motorized, mechanized vehicles, terrorizing wildlife (intentionally or unintentionally), and leaving trash and garbage in our wake. It’s like we’ve lost the ability to be a part of nature.

            We could only wish that most people think as Kayla does about wilderness. I truly believe that there are some people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a national park.

            It isn’t going to be a ‘miracle transformation’ for everyone.

            To: TTM

            I don’t have to justify my experience or lack of to you, it won’t help your case any. But since you asked, I am a much more experienced hiker than equestrian (at least for the present time).

            1. ToTheMoon Avatar

              I noticed how you sneaked “mechanized vehicles” into your list of enemies of physical fitness and causes of “nature deficit disorder.” You may want to rethink that, or you may want to throw a leg over a bicycle sometime and pedal off into the woods. You’ll quickly find out that you’re both exercising AND you’re experiencing the very same nature you would be experiencing by foot.

              And maybe you could post some links to science about how bicycles “terrorize” wildlife while boots, skis, boats and horses do not.

              Despite my objections to some of your assertions that I feel are unfair, inaccurate or ill-informed, I am willing to bet that there is actually little difference between us. I too am a much more experienced hiker than an equestrian or a cyclist. We may be prickly over the bicycle issues, but you and I are far more natural allies than antagonists. The true enemies of nature are neither of us.

    2. Nancy Avatar

      Drum roll, please……..

      “It has been our experience that special designations … result in single-purpose or non-use,and are….. wait for it……. detrimental to the area economy, lifestyles, culture and heritage,” the commissioners wrote.

      Ultimately, the transfer of federal lands to state ownership/management is the only solution “big enough” to address the myriad issues facing the West,” they wrote. “It’s time to restore balance so willing states can tend our unique public lands with local care.”

      Local care? Such as looking the other way when it comes to livestock abuses on public lands, fracking, logging, mining etc.



George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner