Reposted from Mountain Journal with permission of the author, Todd Wilkinson (click at original link for photos)

Does mountain biking impact wildlife, any more than hikers and horseback riders do?
More specifically: could rapidly-growing numbers of cyclists in the backcountry of Greater Yellowstone negatively affect the most iconic species—grizzly bears—living in America’s best-known wildland ecosystem?
It’s a point of contention in the debate over how much of the Gallatin Mountains, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, should receive elevated protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The wildest core of the Gallatins, located just beyond Yellowstone National Park and extending northward toward Bozeman’s back door, is the 155,000-acre Buffalo-Porcupine Creek Wilderness Study Area.
Not only is the fate of the Gallatins considered a national conservation issue, considering its importance to the health of the ecosystem holding Yellowstone, but lines of disagreement have opened within the conservation community.
The Gallatin Forest Partnership, led by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, Montana Wilderness Association and aligned with mountain biking groups, is seeking to have 102,000 acres protected as wilderness in the Gallatins, but it doesn’t include the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine.
Meanwhile, another group, Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness and its allies, want 230,000 acres elevated to wilderness status, especially the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine. Their proposal has attracted widespread support from prominent conservation biologists, retired land managers and well-known businesspeople and citizens across the country. They say they aren’t anti-mountain biking; rather, they are “pro-grizzly bear” and favor foresighted wildlife protection in an age of climate change, a rapidly-expanding human development footprint emanating from Bozeman and Big Sky, and rising levels of outdoor recreation.
One flashpoint playing out publicly has been an online forum called the Bozone Listerv, which functions essentially as a digital community bulletin board. There, cycling advocates have claimed that riding their bikes in grizzly country does not cause serious impacts—certainly none worse, they insist, than hikers, horseback riders and motorized recreationists.
If the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine has its status elevated from being a wilderness study area to full Capital “W” wilderness, motorized users as well as mountain bikers would be prohibited.  However, illegal incursion and blazing of trails by motorized users and mountain bikers have already occurred in the wilderness study area with little enforcement coming from the Forest Service.
“So far I have only seen people who want mountain bikers to sacrifice and the assumption [is] that this will help wildlife,” wrote Adam Oliver, founder of the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association recently on the Bozone Listserv. “Show me the science, prove me wrong or be willing to give up something yourself.”
If Mr. Oliver desires to be shown the professional science relating to mountain bikes and concerns about grizzlies, he need only contact Dr. Christopher Servheen. Servheen, retired from government service, spent four decades at the helm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Team in the West. He is an adjunct research professor in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University of Montana.
Servheen says that despite assertions by mountain bikers, the scientific evidence on impact is pretty clear based on human-bear incidents that have happened and thousands of hours of field observation and radio tracking of grizzlies.
“I do believe that mountain bikes are a grave threat to bears—both grizzly and black bears—for many reasons and these are detailed in the Treat report and recommendations,” Servheen told Mountain Journal. “High speed and quiet human activity in bear habitat is a grave threat to bear and human safety and certainly can displace bears from trails and along trails. Bikes also degrade the wilderness character of wild areas by mechanized travel at abnormal speeds.”
By “Treat report,” Servheen is referring to a multi-agency Board of Review investigation into the death of Brad Treat who was fatally mauled by a grizzly on June 29, 2016 after colliding with the bear at high speed near the town of East Glacier, just outside of Glacier National Park in Montana.  Servheen chairs that board and others investigating fatal bear maulings.
Investigators surmised that Treat was traveling at between 20 and 25 miles an hour and rode into the grizzly around a sharp turn in the trail, leaving him only a second or two to respond. The bear then responded defensively, demonstrating no pattern of otherwise being aggressive and no interest in consuming Treat. He was not carrying bear spray, a gun or a cell phone.
° ° °
Mountain bikers often write on social media of how they enjoy getting hardy workouts over long distances which means they need to ride fast. Some also boast of their love for careening down steep trails.
Denial about impacts on wildlife is a common defensive response from mountain biking groups now pushing for construction of more riding trails on public lands, seeking to reduce the size of areas being proposed for federal wilderness status, and even enlisting lawmakers to amend the federal Wilderness Act so they can gain more access to wild country.
Servheen and others have seen claims made by mountain bikers who try to suggest there is no scientific evidence they’re affecting wildlife. “Some selfish and self-centered mountain bikers are especially prone to this,” Servheen said. “The key factors of mountain biking that aggravate its impact on wildlife are high speed combined with quiet travel. These factors are exactly what we preach against when we tell people how to be safe when using bear habitat.”
For years, mountain biking advocates—as they did at a SHIFT outdoor recreation conference in Jackson Hole—have suggested it makes no difference whether one is riding in Moab and the Wasatch, the Sierras, Colorado Rockies or northern Rockies. Impacts to wildlife, they insist, are nominal.
None of those other areas possess the same level of large mammal diversity Greater Yellowstone does and, save for the Crown of the Continent/Continental Divide Ecosystem in northern Montana, they don’t have grizzlies, considered an umbrella species for a long list of other animals.
Federal wilderness girds the southwest, southwest and eastern front of Yellowstone National Park, serving as a continuance of habitat for species that rely upon plenty of space and low densities of people. The Gallatins, pictured above, represent a crucial piece roadless land, north of the national park. Advocates have sought to get the Gallatin crest and its foothills protected for a century in recognition of the high wildlife values.
According to Servheen and others, capital “W” wilderness areas are biologically important for bears because they are notably different from the busy pace of human uses found on public lands managed for multiple use. Wilderness does accommodate recreation but the emphasis is on users moving at slow speed.


It’s no accident that grizzlies select for unfragmented roadless habitat and wilderness in the Gallatins is certain to accrue ever more value for wildlife as human use levels in the Yellowstone River valley, to the east, and the Gallatin River corridor, dominated by exploding development at Big Sky, continue to surge.


“Wild public lands that currently have grizzly bears present have those bears because of the characteristics of these places: visual cover, secure habitat, natural foods, and spring, summer, fall and denning habitat,” Servheen said. “All these factors can be compromised by excessive human presence, high speed and high encounter frequencies with humans. To compare places without bears, like Utah, to places with bears, like Yellowstone or all the wilderness areas with bears, is a flawed comparison.”

Sharing the Board of Review’s findings and other scientific analyses, Servheen said, “I see mountain bikes as a threat to human and bear safety in grizzly and black bear habitat and as an unnecessary disturbance in wilderness and roadless areas.”
As part of its forest planning process which will guide management for a human generation, Custer-Gallatin officials will be compiling public comments about differing options being advanced for protecting the Gallatin Range and other parts of the forest as wilderness.
Observers note that should Gallatin managers choose to “release” wilderness study areas for motorized recreation or mountain biking (and the growing controversy over e-bikes) those lands will be disqualified from Wilderness designation in the future.
That’s why, given growing population pressure, proponents of more wilderness say the Custer-Gallatin needs to think proactively, anticipating the fact that habitat for grizzlies will shrink and become ever-more fragmented by rising intensity of recreational use. Further, once a use is established, it is extremely difficult to reel it back in.  By the time wildlife field personnel realize that grizzlies are being displaced, it can often be too late.
° ° °
Bear biologists say that because hiking and horseback riding happens at slower plodding speeds, such behavior is more predictable for grizzlies. Both mountain bikers and motorized users increase the likelihood of surprising bears and the fact that riders are focused on the trail, to avoid hitting a boulder or colliding with a tree, they are not as attentive.  It’s the growing numbers of mountain bikers overall, and the volume of riders on any given day, that concerns Servheen.
To show how fast mountain biking has emerged as user entity, reference the voluminous document titled “Forest Plan Amendment for Grizzly Bear Conservation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” released in 2006. The plan pertains to all of the national forests in the Greater Yellowstone region and highlights changes necessary to solidify grizzly conservation in advance of them being removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The document contains hundreds of thousands of words but “bike” is mentioned just twice. Today, mountain biking may be the fastest growing outdoor recreation pastime in Greater Yellowstone and forest supervisors, as a whole, admit they don’t know what the impacts are on wildlife now and, most importantly, what they will be in the future.
Ten years after the document mentioned, above, was released, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee released its “Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” In that document, the importance of “secure habitat” in the core of the ecosystem, which includes roadless stretches of the Gallatin Range, was spelled out:
“History has demonstrated that grizzly bear populations survived where frequencies of contact with humans were very low. Populations of grizzly bears persisted in those areas where large expanses of relatively secure habitat were retained and where human-caused mortality was low,” it states. “In the GYE, this is primarily associated with national park lands, wilderness areas, and large blocks of public lands. Habitat security requires minimizing mortality risk and displacement from human activities in a sufficient amount of habitat to allow the population to benefit from this secure habitat and respond with increasing numbers and distribution.”
Conservation proponents of more wilderness in the Gallatins say they are pro-grizzly, not anti-mountain biking, asserting that the area is more important for long-term survival of grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone than mountain bikers’ need for more terrain.


Mountain bikers already have hundreds of miles’ worth of trail riding options within a relatively short driving distance from Bozeman and Big Sky on public and private lands, including over 50 miles of trail at Big Sky Resort and the Yellowstone Club. Ecoystemwide, they have thousands of miles if old logging roads and motorized trails are included.

Wildlife, however, does not have such a range of options. Grizzly bears fare better in solitude and they settle where necessity bring them. Besides bruins, some elk calving areas are many generations old—places where mothers, who were taught by their mothers, and so on, go to calf and raise their young where they are less likely to encounter human disturbance.
“There are two main impacts of roads and trails on bears: displacement and increased mortality risk,” Servheen explains. “These impacts occur with both motorized and non-motorized access. As human use increases, the importance of areas where there is little or rare use by humans increases. If recreation increases to the point that bears have few secure places to be, then there can be many complex impacts.”
Servheen cited the example of adult male bears seeking and using the most secure backcountry areas thereby forcing females with offspring into areas closer to humans and human disturbance as they try to avoid the adult males.
That’s, in fact, precisely what happened with famed Jackson Hole Grizzly 399 whose first cub was likely killed by a large male bear a decade and a half ago. She then moved from the backcountry of the Bridger-Teton and Grand Teton National Park to riskier roadside area to raise broods of cubs.
“Fortunately, we have yet to get to the point of extreme displacement in most areas of grizzly habitat, but it certainly is possible if human use continues to increase in important bear habitat,” Servheen explains.
The point is not having human uses of backcountry areas proliferate to the point where that happens. In the past, it was documented that old logging roads were linked to higher levels of elicit killing of grizzlies because they provided easy access. That’s not Servheen’s worry with recreation trails.
“As for poaching, I define poaching as intentional vandal killing of bears.  I doubt that increased human use will result in more poaching but it could result in more self-defense kills of bears as bears are surprised and perhaps defensive in more remote areas, he said.  “I worry less about direct deaths than I do about continual displacement and stress on bears trying to avoid humans wherever they go.”
° ° °
A dozen years ago, in 2007, Jeff Marion and Jeremy Wimpey published an assessment, “Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and Best Practices.”  Most of review focused on such things as soil erosion and minimizing conflicts with other users. Notably, it was published as a companion to IMBA’s widely-circulated how-to book on trail building titled “Trail Solutions.”
While no mention was made of grizzly bears—in fact, just two viable grizzly populations exist in the Lower 48—Servheen speaks favorably of Marion’s and Wimpey’s recitation of the science.
“Trails and trail uses can also affect wildlife. Trails may degrade or fragment wildlife habitat, and can also alter the activities of nearby animals, causing avoidance behavior in some and food-related attraction behavior in others. While most forms of trail impact are limited to a narrow trail corridor, disturbance of wildlife can extend considerably further into natural landscapes.”
They went on, “The opposite conduct in wildlife— avoidance behavior —can be equally problematic. Avoidance behavior is generally an innate response that is magnified by visitor behaviors perceived as threatening, such as loud sounds, off-trail travel, travel in the direction of wildlife, and sudden movements. When animals flee from disturbance by trail users, they often expend precious energy, which is particularly dangerous for them in winter months when food is scarce. When animals move away from a disturbance, they leave preferred or prime habitat and move, either permanently or temporarily, to secondary habitat that may not meet their needs for food, water, or cover. Visitors and land managers, however, are often unaware of such impacts, because animals often flee before humans are aware of the presence of wildlife.”
Thus, here is a contraction: mountain bikers are told to make noise in order to alert bears of their presence and yet making noise, particularly if it involves people over a long period of time, might displace grizzlies from habitat.
° ° °
The Board of Review report examining Treat’s death states, “There is a long record of human-bear conflicts associated with mountain biking in bear habitat including the serious injuries and deaths suffered by bike riders. Both grizzly bears and black bears have been involved in these conflicts with mountain bikers,” the authors wrote then drew the following comparison between prime grizzly areas around Yellowstone and the Canadian Rockies near Banff National Park.
“Safety issues related to grizzly bear attacks on trail users in Banff National Park prompted Herrero to study the Moraine Lake Highline Trail. Park staff noted that hikers were far more numerous than mountain bikers on the trail, but that the number of encounters between bikers and bears was disproportionately high….Previous research had shown that grizzly bears are more likely to attack when they first become aware of a human presence at distances of less than 50 meters. Herrero…concluded that mountain bikers travel faster, more quietly and with closer attention to the tread than hikers, all attributes that limit place on a fast section of trail that went through high-quality bear habitat.”
“Herrero” is Dr. Stephen Herrero, an animal behaviorist considered a world authority on bear attacks. He wrote the widely-cited book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. The Board of Review ended its report with this: “There is a need for enhanced safety messaging at trailheads and in the media but it is usually aimed at hikers. However, mountain biking is in many ways more likely to result in injury and or death from bear attacks to people who participate in the activity. In addition, there are increasing numbers of mountain bikers using bear habitat and pressure to increase mountain bike access to areas where black bear and grizzly bear encounters are very likely.”
There is also this analysis done in Jackson Hole. In 2014, consultant A. Grant MacHutchon was hired to compile a risk assessment on human-bear interaction in the Moose-Wilson road corridor. It connects Teton Village and dense development along the west side of the Snake River in Jackson Hole with Grand Teton National Park.
Again, it’s not only displacement of grizzlies, as Servheen and others note, but a matter of human safety.
“Trail riding with mountain bikes is currently not allowed anywhere in the Moose-Wilson Corridor nor is it being proposed in any of the alternatives for the MWC. However, there is more information available on the human safety risks associated with mountain biking than there is for road biking on multi‐use pathways; consequently, I used this information for my assessment of the proposed multi‐use pathway.”
Based on his congealing of studies, he said a sudden encounter occurs when a person approaches within 55 yards of a bear, apparently without the bear being aware of the person until the person is close by.
“Mountain biking is often characterized by high speeds and quiet movement. This limits the reaction time of people and/or bears and the warning noise that would help to reduce the chance of sudden encounters with a bear. An alert mountain biker making sufficient noise and traveling at slow speed (e.g. uphill) would be no more likely to have a sudden encounter with a bear than would a hiker. However, on certain types of trails (e.g. flat, moderate downhill, smooth surface), the typical bicyclist can travel at much higher speeds than hikers, which increases the likelihood of a sudden encounter.”
Matthew Schmor, a graduate student at the University of Calgary, summarized survey data he collected from 41 individuals in the Calgary‐Canmore region who had had interactions with bears while mountain biking. Some of the interactions were aggressive encounters in which a bicyclist(s) was charged or chased by a bear(s). Most of the interactions (66 percent) were with black bears (27 of 41), 32 percent were with grizzly bears (13 of 41), and in one case the species was not identified.
Of the 41 bear‐bicyclist interactions reported by Schmor, most occurred on flat trails (51 percent vs nearly a third—29 percent—on downhills, and 15 percent on uphill riding. Equally as revealing is that 61 percent happened at speeds of 11 and 30 km/hour, a quarter at between 1 and 10 km/hour.  Three-fifths of the incidents involved two or less riders.
“Interestingly, Schmor found that 78 percent (32 of 41) of encounters occurred in high visibility areas with greater than 16 yards of open ground between the bicyclist and the bear. Schmor also found that 76 percent (31 of 41) of mountain bike riders had not contacted officials about their bear encounters.”
The latter finding is extremely important because each encounter can result cumulatively over time in bears being disrupted and opting to abandon prime habitat for terrain where food and security cover is much less optimal. For grizzly mothers in their reproduction years, biologists tell Mountain Journalthat poorer nutrition and more stressful environments can actually result in fewer successful pregnancies and fewer cubs.
If grizzly bears in an ecosystem like Greater Yellowstone are going to persist and thrive, weathering changes brought by growing numbers of people and a shifting climate, they protecting the best bear habitat should be a priority, Servheen says.  “You are correct that I see mountain bikes as a threat to human and bear safety in grizzly and black bear habitat and as an unnecessary disturbance in wilderness and roadless areas,” he said.
° ° °
What’s the key to keeping free-ranging wildlife populations on the landscape?  What’s the value of wilderness?  What should conservation-minded recreationists be paying attention to?  “Intactness is the first thing that comes to mind. There are few places left intact in our highly fragmented world,” says Gary Tabor, president of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation based in Bozeman but involved with wildlife issues around the world.
“I think mountain biking and rapid recreational expansion into the backcountry is symptomatic of a growing push to build roads and sub-roads and trails everywhere we want to go without regard for the other beings out there and the high values inherent in leaving those places alone.”
Tabor says the thinking about wildness has changed in an era focused on personal use and extreme athleticism. Lost is a literacy and understanding of ecology, an empathy for what uncommon creatures need in the rare spaces they’re able to inhabit.
“Backcountry used to be backcountry,” he says. “It’s not just mountain bikers crisscrossing places and riding fast to notch dozens of miles in a day. People are doing 50 kilometer walks and running their own ultra-marathons, covering as much ground in hours where you used to spend a week unwinding.”
Tabor has watched the debate over Gallatin wilderness unfold on social media outlets and he has witnessed professional conservationists affiliated with the Gallatin Forest Partnership become defensive when other groups say that more habitat protection is better than promoting more human use.  It isn’t hard to know which conservation option is better for wildlife.
“Groups that are working on behalf of the conservation community to represent conservation values should be open to peer review from other members of the conservation community,” he said. “They should not look upon it as criticism but welcome it as peer review to put forth a better conservation plan because we probably have one chance to get it right. Just because you are one of the few in a negotiating room doesn’t mean you capture all of the conservation values that need a louder voice. As the fragmentation of nature accelerates and the future of the Gallatins is being decided, I think we all can ask ourselves, “Is no place sacred?”


EDITOR’S NOTE:  Tim Hawke, a member of the Southwest Montana Mountain Biking Association, asserted on social media in response to this story that Mountain Journal and its founder Todd Wilkinson are “anti-mountain biking.”  Here is what Wilkinson wrote as a reply: “I am not now, and have never been anti-bike. There’s a reason why we still have grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone and why they don’t and will never exist in other wildland areas, that is owed to two things: landscapes not dominated by people and wildlands that are not fragmented. There are plenty of excellent places to mountain bike that are not as critical to wildlife as the central core of Greater Yellowstone. Your colleague, Adam Oliver, wrote this on the Bozone listerv: “So far I have only seen people who want mountain bikers to sacrifice and the assumption is this will help wildlife. Show me the science. Prove me wrong.” It was an intriguing statement so I went to the chief of grizzly recovery for the last several decades. I think he answered the question about science posed by Adam. He and other biologists have a question of their own: When does anyone ever ask wildlife what they are willing to sacrifice? The extraordinary abundance of wildlife that exists in Greater Yellowstone and nowhere else in the Lower 48—grizzlies, animal migrations—is exceeding rare in the world. We mountain bikers have exponentially more habitat to play in than grizzlies do to survive in.”



About the author: Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is an American author and journalist proudly trained in the old school tradition. For more on his career, click here (Photo by David J Swift).


89 Responses to Griz Expert Says ‘Mountain Bikes Are A Grave Threat To Bears’

  1. Theodore Chu says:

    After “conservationists” and Wilkerson maligned Servheen for years it’s amusing they know credit him with being a grizzly bear expert.

  2. idaursine says:

    Fantastic, and hard to ignore the facts.

  3. idaursine says:

    He seems to be speaking a little more freely now. 🙂

  4. Patrick Veesart says:

    I too am a “…plant [and animal] nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness.” I also ride a bike. For me bicycles are an efficient, non-motorized conveyance. I don’t “kamikaze” down mountains, I don’t ride fast, and I don’t believe that the world exists to be my roller coaster. There are idiot bike riders, idiot horse riders, and idiot hikers. Lots of ’em. I’m not sure why you single out the bicycle riding idiots over the others. I have long resented that horses are allowed in Wilderness while bicycles are not. I have seen the damage that horses do. I once lived in a place that has many Brown bears and I have had the amazing experience of hiking/kayaking/biking in places where one encounters Brown bears – not every time, but often enough to keep you humble and alert. I never encountered a Brown bear while on a bike, but I certainly worried about it – especially riding at night. I have no doubt that the outcome of such an encounter would be decided by the bear. I expect that most everything humans do in Wilderness areas disturbs the wildlife. I would support the creation of human-free Wilderness areas, but truthfully, I’d probably be the first to break the rule. Rather than arbitrarily exclude some people while allowing others, I suggest forming alliances with responsible bicycle riders and working together to designate and protect Wilderness areas and to encourage responsible behavior (and appropriate humility) while visiting those areas. It’s just a thought…

    • Hiker says:

      Patrick, None of this is ‘arbitrary’. Wilderness was designed to protect and limit. Should we station someone with a clipboard at every trailhead to weed out the ‘bad’ bikers? There is simply no way that could happen. Your statement that “I’d probably be the first to break the rule” shows exactly what we fear, rule breaking bikers. Yeah, there are idiot hikers, but they just don’t go as fast, and speed, if you read the article, is the enemy of these wild animals. You may suffer from a bad encounter, but the animals suffer more, way more. There are literally thousands of miles of trails that exist that bikers can use right now. Have you used them all? How many times? I have personally hiked the same Wilderness trails over and over again, hundreds of times and don’t ever get tired of it. What is it with bikers and the need to conquer that leads them to break the rules and need ever more trails?

      Two days ago I encountered a biker miles from the trailhead in Wilderness. I politely informed him of his mistake and he replied that ‘he didn’t see the sign’. The huge Forest Service Wilderness Area sign that everyone goes past.

      • Patrick Veesart says:

        To be clear, I did not say that I would break the rule on a bike. What I meant was that I would be irresistibly drawn to Wilderness – even if humans were excluded by some law. Also, I don’t believe that I have ever(knowingly)ridden a bicycle in a designated Wilderness. I am well aware of what Wilderness is, what the Wilderness Act is, and the language therein. I once testified in federal court as a “Wilderness expert” which I felt to be an arrogant assertion at the time, but it was in the interest of protecting certain Roadless areas with Wilderness characteristics. You could just as well station your clipboard carrying gatekeeper to weed out “bad” horse riders or hikers. As to the rest of your post, come on, bicyclists ride the same trails too and enjoy some for
        a lifetime. Most people – hikers and bikers – seek new trails too. Don’t you? That does not mean they seek to “conquer” any more than you do. The planet is going to hell in a handbasket while we fight each other over the same ‘ol stuff.

        • Hiker says:

          Then stop fighting.

        • Hiker says:

          Patrick, you are advocating to change the highest protection we can give Federal land. Can’t you see how short-sighted that is? What’s to stop the next special interest group from siting biker access as justification for their own? For instance, motorized use. You want to set a legal precedent that would derail ALL the protection we get from Wilderness.

        • WM says:

          Wheeled mechanical devices do not belong in Wilderness. The rules should be enforced and large fines assessed. In my experience most wilderness bikers are assholes.

          My apologies to those bikers who are not, but you need to stay out of Wilderness.

        • Chris Zinda says:

          “If wilderness areas (and all public lands) are today nothing more than corporate subsidies and individual anarchistic playgrounds no longer meeting their legislative intent, we must stop deluding ourselves and treat them like any other vandalized throughout history and delegislate.

          To keep it real so that all humans may take virtuous Instagram advantage of the burgeoning business of industrial extinction tourism.”

        • STG says:

          The safety issue is huge! I have had dogs injured/hit by mountain bikers and I have almost been taken out. I am courteous to mt bikers that yield to me on the trail and ride safely, but I am vocal when mt bikers ride fast around blind corners. I will never be an advocate for mt bikers in wilderness. There are plenty of multiple use areas. I am not just targeting mt bikers. I think there should be some wilderness areas/public land off limits to all recreationists especially in prime grizzly habitat. Let’s stop treating all public land as our personal playground!

  5. Hiker says:

    It’s not just bears but also Mtn. Lions. Imagine biking in Lion country, at night, as fast as you can, then BAM! collision. The Lion loses no matter what. Keep bikes out of Wilderness, period.

    • Patrick Veesart says:

      I expect that more lions (and bears) are killed by cars in one month than by all the bicycles since the beginning of time. I know that this is an emotional issue, and I know that folks who read this blog are passionately pro-Wilderness – as am I. I know that it is comforting to believe that solutions come in “black and white.” I have seen this bicycle/Wilderness debate go on for many years. It does not seem to be any closer to resolution. Maybe try something different?

      • Hiker says:

        Limiting bad encounters as much as possible, to protect these wild animals, should be the goal of every pro-Wilderness advocate. Not selfishly demanding the rules be changed to suit themselves.
        We all know the world is changing rapidly. These wild animals need as much space as possible so they have a chance, however small, to survive. Is that too much to ask?

      • Hiker says:

        Patrick, It’s not that bikes kill Wildlife, it’s that Wildlife sometimes get killed after they try to defend themselves. Also, when I lived in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, for over 10 years, I heard about Moose, Elk, Deer, and Bison getting hit by cars. Predators seem smarter than that because I rarely heard about them getting hit.

      • idaursine says:

        If you cannot put the welfare of another creature above your selfish needs, then you are not passionately pro-wildlife, you are passionately pro-mountain biking. Riding at night seems to really be pushing it.

        • Hiker says:

          Ida, I have seen, in my own backyard, bikers riding at night. To me it just seems selfish, what can they see? It’s just part of the thrill of speeding down the trail.

          • idaursine says:

            The facts are against these people, if they cannot even care about a death of a fellow bike rider.

            As far as the fate of the planet goes, this is small potatoes for decision makers. We cannot ethically justify killing every animal that gets in the way of a mountain biker, nor serious injury or death of riders.

        • Johnny Muir says:

          What about camping at night in the bear’s habitat? Wilderness backpacking, camping, fishing, hunting, campfires, cooking, washing, and going potty seem pretty selfish… but you folks won’t ever advocate for prohibiting those intrusive and impactful activities. Cause it is the bicycle that will ruin wild lands and wild animals. Lol.

          • Chris Zinda says:

            Although I agree with your sentiment, I must disagree with your statement, Johnny:

            “OIA statistics indicate 290 million people recreate in the American West and there are 32 million cattle to share the land, including Bundy’s in Wilderness, and 1.7 million oil and gas wells in the U.S. to support them all. It is both trammeled and increasingly less primeval and the only new infrastructure we legally need on public lands are gates placed to keep humans of all kind out during the 6th mass extinction and state of climate crisis.”

          • Hiker says:

            So if bikes can’t go no one should? Is that the extent of your argument? All those things you listed can be done carefully, with no impact (except the hunting and fishing), if done right. The same CAN’T be said for bikes. Study after study has shown this, but I guess science has no place in your argument.

            • Nancy says:

              Hiker, I’d be perfectly content if there were areas, of what’s left of wilderness, set aside just for wildlife – no humans allowed except to maybe monitor the health of the land and keep out human trespassers.

          • Hiker says:

            Oh, and your namesake, John Muir, would disagree with you. He wrote that as many people as possible should experience true Wilderness and he camped in the most unlikely places.

            • Chris Zinda says:

              He was also a bum from my WI, his benefactor Harriman.

              And, it is true, as while Muir and the SC hated Hetch Hetchy, he did advocate for industrial recreation (and the removal of the Miwok), seen throught their cherry stemmed cities in the YOSE wilderness that still exist today.

              “No doubt Industrial Wreckreation still ranks high on Trump’s list regardless of political persuasion, as business is business and all will still make money as they collaborate to extract their profits from you with joint, slick, marketing campaigns in Outside Magazine.

              Only in small part funded by your working class donations (as there aren’t many working class members) the Sierra Club will still have their High Sierra Camp cities serviced and traversed by their shit carrying mules that are cherry stemmed in the Yosemite wilderness.”

              • Hiker says:

                Chris, John Muir had many jobs, one of which was a writer, does that mean you are a bum as well?
                Anyone who needs to quote themselves to make a point is sorely lacking in creativity.

                One point I would agree with is that many of these enviro. organizations have sold out. Contribute to them at your own risk.

                • Chris Zinda says:

                  I was there ’99-03. My spouse the AO from ’99-’09 – the longest serving in YOSE admin history – during the Valley Plan where Zinke’s Mihalic and TWC’s Watson sold out CC/Qs.

                  We were happy to leave.

                • Hiker says:

                  OK Chris I don’t know your lingo. What’s an AO and CC/Q?
                  What job did you have 99-03? I was seasonal interpretation 08 and 09.

                • Chris Zinda says:

                  Chief of Administration.

                  Carrying capacitiy / quotas.

                  I worked in the Office of Strategic Planning in the Superintendent’s office. Current YOSE Super Mike Reynolds was my then supervisor.

                • Hiker says:

                  Ah, thank you, now it makes sense. Limiting numbers in Yosemite has always been contentious. One has only to hike the Mist Trail to see why. You are right, money is often the driving factor, even for an organization like the NPS.

                • Hiker says:

                  It’s interesting that bikes generate so much debate. On the one hand you seem to want quotas and limits. On the other hand Johnny Muir wants to open Wilderness up to even more use. I find myself in the middle. I am afraid that once laws are changed, for any reason, the potential for problems increases. So, even though many Wilderness areas are busy, I feel that things should not be changed. There are still many Wilderness areas that receive little use. In my backyard the trails are crowded until Wilderness is entered. The further you go the fewer people there are.

              • Hiker says:

                When I was working for the NPS in Yosemite many of the High Sierra Camps had to close due to Norovirus! Shit carrying mules and blood for mosquitoes, part of the price for these camps. Maybe that price is too high.

  6. idaursine says:

    How does anyone know who the responsible or irresponsible bikers are? How can it be assured that people of all recreational choices prepare for wildlife encounters?

    Especially when it is so dangerous, and the wildlife are made to pay the price. It really can’t work.

  7. idaursine says:

    Of course, facts and ethics don’t always guide the decision makers, so you never know. I really hope the right decision is made.

    Speaking as an ardent hiker – speed is the issue, and I am personally happy with the legal trails already available to me, which show me something new and different every time I hike them. I don’t need more, especially when other creatures need their space too. I’m more than happy to sacrifice for them.

  8. Susan Barmeyer says:

    Thoreau wrote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” I agree. And bicycles are not wild, they are a mechanized intrusion.

  9. idaursine says:

    Oh boy, these silly rationale – even if more wildlife was killed by cars, that doesn’t justify additional killing by mountain bike or killing for a dangerous encounter. It’s all cumulative. Why add to it if you don’t have to?

    And what a sacrifice!!! /sarc I should have put ‘sacrifice’ in quotes in my previous post, because it really isn’t one at all – especially since mountain bikers and other recreationists are not barred completely from other trails and areas.

    Why spoil additional, untrammlled places unless for the usual reason, money?

    • Hiker says:

      Ida, it feels to me like there is a disconnect between some bikers and hikers. You and I seem to have no problem with the current, highest protection called Wilderness. Not so some bikers, they constantly want more and more. We are so fortunate that we have true Wilderness in our country. Go to other countries and even the most remote areas are used extensively by humans. Why can’t they see the importance of keeping our Wilderness lands intact? It all seems very simple to me, want to go to Wilderness, get off your bike!

      • Johnny Muir says:

        @Hiker – is it not true that Wilderness advocates want more and more Wilderness, even at the expense of existing public land users, and even if that historic use doesn’t degrade the Wilderness character of the land? Talk about being selfish!

        Wilderness needs no defense, it only needs more defenders. You selfishly are going the opposite direction.

        • Hiker says:

          Mr. Muir, No it’s not true, none of what you just said is true. Talk about twisting facts! What “existing public land users” are you talking about? What “historic use” are you referring to? Please be more clear in your accusations in the future. Otherwise we must guess at your meaning. My guess is that, based on your other statements, you are wrong about your assumptions.
          “Wilderness needs no defense, it only needs more defenders.” If Wilderness needs defenders doesn’t it need defense? Your statement makes no sense.

          • Johnny Muir says:

            Have you heard of the Boulder White Clouds? Are you following the Custer Gallatin NF Forest Plan Revision? Are you aware of the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSA’s in the Bitterroot Travel Plan? Conservationist who enjoy experiencing rugged places on bikes, as well as maintaining the trails within them, have gotten eviction notices due to the inability of Wilderness purists to compromise… and what happens is less land is protected at the highest degree.

            Do you think Wilderness advocates are not interested in protecting more land as Wilderness? Are you being coy or ignorant?


            • Hiker says:

              So, Mr. Muir, without saying so, you have revealed that your “historic users” that don’t “degrade the Wilderness character of the land” are bikers! What BULLSHIT!! Bikes degrade the land, way more than hikers. In my backyard I am constantly closing shortcuts made by bikers. They make new trails then brag about it. They are always making the trail wider and creating jumps as if the land is their own personal gym. It’s so simple, keep the Wilderness laws the same, preserve the land, protect the wildlife. Or did you forget what this article is all about? Speed kills!

              • Johnny Muir says:

                Hiker – You just agreed that hikers degrade the land. Case closed, just like your mind is. If it were as open as your potty mouth, we might actually get somewhere as like minded people. Oh well.

                • Hiker says:

                  Keep twisting words, then give up. You have already lost. You CAN’T bike in Wilderness.

                • Hiker says:

                  Mr. Muir, where might we actually get if we disagree at such a fundamental level? I am not like minded with you. Can’t you tell? Yes, potty mouth, I call it like I see it. If my mind is closed, so is yours.

  10. Bruce Bowen says:

    This society has become too well trained by the constant capitalistic and technological propaganda. Examples: California used to ban hunting with air guns and cross bows. Air guns were not considered powerful enough for a “clean kill” and cross bows being silent, were the perfect poaching weapon. After constant lobbying by manufacturers and the user groups they form, it is now legal to hunt with the above weapons at the expense of wildlife. So called hunters even want to use drones now to spot their prey.

    The pet trade is another example. Those pythons in the everglades did not get there by accident. They were once “pets” that got too big for the owners safety and were irresponsibly released. The federal government made it legal (I think under the Bush administration) to import and sell foreign species because it supposedly brought dollars into the economy. Electrical workers in Florida have even been bitten by green mambas. Capitalism has become a religion and our agencies no loner stand up for the animals/habitats they are supposed to protect.

    I will not be an apologist for off road bikers or bike manufacturers. I have hiked on trails in and around Missoula and not once has a biker ever gotten off his or her vehicle to allow pedestrians to pass. They expect having the right of way. They do not respect their fellow citizens much less wildlife species. They do not belong on hiking trails. They are another strain of the capitalistic plague- a disease process which is interfering with a basic right to enjoy the basic vibrations of nature. I am much more afraid of getting hit by some arrogant biker than ever getting attacked by a bear.

    I made a spiritual commitment years ago- not to the buy and sell paradigm as others have done- but to the land- I will not leave behind anything more than foot prints, a tobacco offering and prayers for the other beings I share the planet with.

    The people that are not interested in the simple, calming, healing peace and quiet of nature have no business being there to ruin it for the rest of us with their self important arrogant capitalistic attitudes and technological weaponry.

    • MAD says:

      As a Montanan who travels frequently as a State employee, I get to hike in a lot of different places. I’ve been up in the Yaak, the Beartooths, the Cabinet Mountains, the Bob, the Pryors, the Snowies, and many others (even up on the high-line in the Bears Paw). There is huge tracts of land open to cyclists, it’s amazing. Yet I have never heard a mountain biker say, “we have so many places to ride, we don’t the wilderness areas.” Not once. And that’s after hanging out in bars in Missoula (ground zero for MTB in MT) and elsewhere, after fly fishing the incredible creeks and rivers and having a cold one somewhere. I don’t understand. If the Forest Service or BLM closed off an area to hikers and horses, the folks would just go elsewhere. There would be no revolt, and no pissing and moaning. Mountain bikers want it their way, total easy, local access to virtually every piece of federal and state land. If you tell them no, you have to drive 100 miles from Missoula to tear up the backcountry they go through the roof. They want it accessible right outside their door, regardless of the impact or inconvenience of others

      • Hiker says:

        Thank you, good points. I have respected trail closures all my life. If it’s closed (and that happens a lot around J. Hole in the winter) I don’t go hiking there. I go elsewhere. Why? Because I know those winter closures are protecting wildlife and that is far more valuable to me then needing to hike.

      • Johnny Muir says:

        @MAD – You wrote, “If the Forest Service or BLM closed off an area to hikers and horses, the folks would just go elsewhere. There would be no revolt, and no pissing and moaning.”

        This might be the most comical comment in this already hilarious discussion. Can you provide an example of an area closed to hiking that didn’t result in poaching, trespassing and revolt?

        How many examples of revolt would you like me to share with you?


        • Hiker says:

          Interesting Mr. Muir. So, your argument is that it’s ok to break the law because others do? I already provided your example above. In the winter, in the forest around J. Hole, MANY trails are closed to give wildlife a break. These closures are respected. As you said above, ‘case closed’.
          Now please, respect the law that gives the greatest protection to our Federal lands. Keep bikes out of Wilderness, protect the wildlife.

  11. idaursine says:

    Air gun hunting? And any laws there are to restrict invasive wildlife coming into this country are not strong enough.

    It is dismaying that people think that any restriction at all on any kind of behavior is a supreme sacrifice! We are at a point I feel where we have become terrifically overindulged, and do not know what real sacrifice is anymore. And I agree with you, I try very hard to have a minimal footprint.

  12. rork says:

    That horses (or motorized vehicles) are worse than mountain bikes does not make mountain bikes good. Instead join me in lobbying to restrict horses from some areas. In fact we need to restrict humans from some areas at some times (as they do in the Mission mountains in the summer where Griz densities are the highest, and very predictable). In some (low-use) wilderness I’ve been in perhaps there should be no trail building. It just makes the place de facto smaller. In parts of the Pasayten, Church, Missions, Absaroka my brother and I avoid the human trails – it’s wilder where they are absent. Follow the ways the elk or goats go.

    • Chris Zinda says:

      Walking off trail, too, has great impact dispersing wildlife. It is as harmful as any other human intrusion. Why any group thinks they have little or no impact vs another (therefore, acceptable) is entirely the philosophical problem, not just today’s preferred antagonists on bikes.


      • Hiker says:

        Well, Chris, I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m off to hike my local Wilderness area. It’s the only time that I really am happy. Also, I’m looking forward to going off trail and avoiding the crowds and bikes. Sure am glad the law is on my side. What makes you happy?

        • Chris Zinda says:


          The ‘law’ as improperly implemented like so many other extractive uses, is ‘on your side’.

          As I said:

          “Natural rights in political thought means humans are above nature and have a property right to it, including any labor and fruits from using it. Central to capitalism, the fruits include resources extraction, factory farms, real estate and industrial recreation. It is indoctrinated early as earthly anarchistic freedom. And, it is used by Cliven Bundy theoconstitutionalists to justify their stance on public lands, Instagram influencers when they ask for more infrastructure as they geotag, and enviro.orgs when they accept Outdoor Alliance or Patagonia tainted grants. They all lay natural rights claims to public lands, truly a tragedy for the commons.”

          What do I do for ‘fun’?

          Many things these days, mostly live a family life and garden (organic) to feed my family. Something that most humans used to do to fill their ‘free’ time. It expends less carbon and gives back, a bit, and makes us all forget about the apocalypse.

          Me, particularly, given my ongoing sensitivity to the state of modern environmentalism.


          • Hiker says:

            I didn’t ask about fun, I asked about happy. Big difference.

            I would argue that the law that protects my right to use the land (in a non-extractive way) is NOT “improperly implemented” but suitable and needed in this hectic, computer-driven age.

            • Chris Zinda says:

              Regardless of science indicating direct impacts to flora/fauna even from hiking (esp in aggregate), how is your use…any use…not extractive?

              It is the semantic root of conservation vs. preservation. Note environmentalism today prefers to be referred as ‘conservation’.

              Do you not count your carbon (transportation, gear) as impact? Do you discount growing scientific evidence that even an activity like hiking has a significant impact on nature?

              Of course, these questions are rhetorical, for the crowd.

              • Hiker says:

                So I should go live in a cave? But that would just mess up the cave. What is your overall impact? What is your energy use? How much square footage do you live in? Instead of imposing your guilt ridden ideas about the impact of hiking maybe step back and examine the pure joy I expressed to you about hiking and ask yourself…is it worth hassling this person about HIKING???

          • Hiker says:

            Chris, you left out this part from the article you quoted yourself from. It’s at the end.

            “Chris Zinda complains that Wilderness Watch doesn’t support “carrying capacities and quotas” to limit the number of humans in Wilderness. News to us. Wilderness Watch has consistently supported quotas and limits and has filed lawsuits to enforce them. Where Zinda gets his information or draws his conclusions is beyond me, as he presents not an ounce of evidence for his unsupportable claims. Too bad, his article otherwise makes a good point, but now I’m left wondering how much of it is made up?”
            George Nickas
            Executive Director
            Wilderness Watch

            • Chris Zinda says:

              I stand by it, as the piece entirely directed at them. They are done nothing to litigate carrying capacities in 10+ years. Note, too, nothing in their website (do a search).

              Sour grapes.

              • Hiker says:

                So your plan is to attack people who don’t measure up to your standards? From what I’ve read here you will end up with few allies.

                • Chris Zinda says:

                  Long ago I worked for the NPS (my partner still a public land manager). At Cap Reef we created (through NEPA) a GMP, spending a few hundred thousand dollars creating a plan to keep the park ‘wilderness’ and included language to create carrying capacities in the backcountry if used indicated ‘unacceptable change’ based on natural resource ‘indicators’. Our purpose also was to keep the Burr Trail unpaved, defining road types and appropriate maintenace (or, obliteration).

                  That plan was rejected, never approved, as the industrial wreck lobbyists, Chambers and political delegations pressured (it didn’t take much) the NPS to shelve it. The did.


                  The late-80s/early-’90s was a time where carrying capacities and quotas were seen as necessary in the hard core enviro movement.

                  Today, the Big 5 has fucked Cap Reef, the Burr Trail switchbacks on the cusp of pavement, ushering more OIA marketed/indoctrinated, freeloading, consuming, disrupting, humans.

                  And, the Gods call it good.

        • Nancy says:

          “Well, Chris, I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m off to hike my local Wilderness area. It’s the only time that I really am happy. Also, I’m looking forward to going off trail and avoiding the crowds and bikes”

          Hiker, not trying to jump into the conversation/debate here but this is what happens too often to wildlife when they infringe on “human established” territory (which amounts to encroachment on what use to be wildlife habitat) in the name of greed and human over population:


          There is this kind of a “how dare you, lion” mentality here but many of us who live on the fringe of wild areas can relate to why this lion (and bears) are now showing up in human populated areas – decades of infringement/encroachment into their neighborhoods and their prey base, that is now attracted to easy food (landscapes, shrubs, plants, etc.)

          You lived around Yellowstone so you had to realize at some point (the growth around Jackson Hole is a damning example) that the last best places for wildlife, nature to exist, are slowly and methodically disappearing in the name of our species, who want to experience wildlife’s last best places and want to live in it but also want to “cherry pick” how and when, that wonderful experience might take place in a too often busy, human schedule (as in booking an adventure out where the buffalo no longer but deer, elk and antelope still try and roam)


          Get my drift?

          • Hiker says:

            As far as J.Hole goes that ship sailed long ago. Just building there disrupted elk migration to the point where the National Elk Refuge was created to keep the elk from starving. There are still lots of Bison roaming there and moose as well. I’ve seen more moose in and around J.Hole then any where else (was charged by one on the edge of town).

            We have to play the cards we are dealt. I have played in Wilderness all my life and having grown up in L.A. I do NOT take it for granted. The point I’m trying to make is that we all have an impact…no matter what…I refuse to live without the joy of being in Nature and I believe that more people should do the same; the world would be a better place.

    • Johnny Muir says:

      @rork – First, they banned the mountain bikers. Then 40 years later, they banned the horsemen. Then 10 years later, they banned the hunters and anglers. Then 2 years later, they banned the skiers and paddlers. Then those pesky humans kept sneaking in to do what they like to do and they banned humans from all Wilderness areas, preaching that there are plenty of other places humans can enjoy the outdoors.

      Then nobody was left to defend these Wilderness lands and they became a new frontier for mining, logging and development interests.

      A slippery slope indeed…

      • Hiker says:

        Mr. Muir, your statement is the best, most ringing endorsement, on why NO change should be made to our Wilderness Laws. Thank you, in all sincerity, for your post. Once changes start when do they stop?

        • Johnny Muir says:

          Hiker – it already started, 20 years after the Wilderness Act passed when human powered bicycling was banned. If you are reading the same comments in this discussion that I am… the one’s that propose banning horses, hunting and humans, that is the direction we are headed. We still have time to restore balance and Wilderness itself… but not if the attitude is to get rid of everything we don’t like.

          • Hiker says:

            I think YOUR attitude is “to get rid of everything we don’t like”. You want to get rid of pesky laws that keep bikes out. Not keep you out, you are more than welcome to walk into any Wilderness area anytime. No one is calling for that to change. Except maybe in your fantasies.

      • Rob says:

        Unfortunately things are going in the opposite direction of your example. First they weakened protections to allowed mt bikes, then to allow electric bikes, then low exhaust motor bikes, then…
        See the problem. You argue that mt bikes don’t have negative impacts so they are ok, even though this article clearly points out that there are very negative impacts to wildlife. I would add that there are very negative impacts to the current users as well. I rarely hike where mt bikes are allowed because they invariably come shooting up the trail often from behind at high speed and say something like “passing on your left” Often startling hikes who try to get out of the way. The multi-trail user signs say bikes are to give the right of way to hikes and horses. Yet, I don’t think I have ever seen that happen for hikers. Hopefully they do it for horses since they are so big and likely bolt.
        I see the conflict with mt bikes as two fold as described in the article. The speed and silence (except of course when they are applying breaks on downhill and you can hear the breaks squeal from half a mile away). And adding additional users.
        Still have not heard a reasonable explanation of why mt bikers need trails through wilderness areas. I agree with Hiker. Keep the law as it is!

        • WM says:

          I’m with you, Rob. Well said. And, in my experience some of these very same bike advocates that engage in the conduct you describe, when confronted, are jerks.

          And, actually the no bikes in designated Wilderness rule needs to be strictly enforced with heavy fines.

          • Hiker says:

            I have confronted bikes in Wilderness areas and usually they claim ignorance. I wish there were more patrols by law enforcement, it’s definitely lacking.

            Even in non-Wilderness areas bikes are guilty of trail expansion and short-cutting. I spend a lot of my hiking time closing short-cuts, only to see them somewhere else.

  13. idaursine says:

    Changing the character and intent of the Wilderness Act to allow motorized transport is a very serious issue. How long will it be before ATVs, roadbuilding, hunting/poaching made more accessible and resource extraction will follow? That bike riders can’t and won’t see beyond the end of their noses about this is very dismaying. It’s the very opposite of wildnerness protection. I hope that it will be fought vigorously.

  14. D. Greenstadt says:

    We can hardly blame cyclists for being suspect of articles like this. The record of anti-bicycle misinformation and NIMBYism on ALL types of public land may be thick, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate concerns about bicycles in Wilderness and elsewhere. The underlying question in all these debates (from bears to trail impacts to user safety or aesthetics) is whether simply banning bicycles – or accepting an existing ban – is good policy or whether it’s better to apply many decades of recreational lands management experience to specific places and concerns – just as we do for non-cyclists.

    Historically, conflict and negative ecological impacts having nothing to do with bicycles but instead stemming from feet, horses, skis, boats, hunting, etc. on Wilderness lands and beyond have been managed by a range of techniques far short of blanket exclusion. Public and private entities have been educating visitors; improving/modifying trails; experimenting with signage; issuing permits; applying specific, local remedies and restrictions; and otherwise engaging with land users to influence their behavior and guide their expectations when visiting public lands.

    Does anybody remember the time before mountain bikes when encounters between humans and bears were unheard of? Of course not. Did the first human run-in with a bear result in the blanket exclusion of humans from all bear territory? That would have been ridiculous, right? Instead, what we’ve tried to do is examine the factors and causes that may have contributed to those encounters and we have developed tools and strategies to measure, minimize, and mitigate those impacts.

    Mr. Wilkinson’s implies that we should leapfrog right past our management experience and simply exclude bicycles. In a nearly 4,000 word essay, there is virtually no mention or discussion of any management practice that might be applied, save for the inclusion of a graphic drawn from the USFS Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee that hints at remedies short of an outright ban on bicycles. Instead of trying to justify widespread exclusion based on anecdote and scant data, maybe we should first encourage exactly the same type of further research, discussion, and solutions we have long applied to non-cyclist interactions with bears.

    As others have pointed out, there are a number of assertions in the article that beg better examination. Mr. Wilkinson writes, “The Board of Review report examining Treat’s death states, “There is a long record of human-bear conflicts associated with mountain biking in bear habitat including the serious injuries and deaths suffered by bike riders.” That specific text doesn’t appear in the report linked to by Mr. Wilkinson, but instead is contained in a separate set of management recommendations (http://igbconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/160629_BOR_Recomm_Treat_NCDE.pdf). Either way, the statement is untrue. What we actually have is a very short record of human-bear conflicts associated with mountain biking. The long record of conflict is between bears and non-cyclists. The report references just seven incidents involving cyclists across Canada and the US since 2004.

    Mr. Wilkinson highlights another quote that appears within the Recommendations document: “Safety issues related to grizzly bear attacks on trail users in Banff National Park prompted Herrero [and Herero (2000)] to study the Moraine Lake Highline Trail. Park staff noted that hikers were far more numerous than mountain bikers on the trail, but that the number of encounters between bikers and bears was disproportionately high.” However, senior park staff today state that no comparative user counts were recorded and no specific data exists to support such a conclusion. Staff observations and other anecdotal information from trail users can be useful in trying to identify concerns, but they are not sufficient for setting or defending broad policies of exclusion.

    The Board of Review report on the Brad Treat fatality that Mr. Wilkinson heavily relies on was chaired by Dr. Christopher Servheen. But Dr. Servheen’s bias is immediately evident when he offers several non-scientific objections to bicycles such as his reference to bicycles, “degrad[ing] the wilderness character” or when he, and the author, casually extrapolate allegedly disproportionate grizzly encounters and impacts to all wildlife everywhere. In defense of Dr. Servheen and the four other members of the Board of Review, however, their Recommendations document (linked above) makes no mention of blanket exclusion but, instead, points to a range of potential remedies including education specifically targeting cyclists, seasonal restrictions or closures, and trail-specific risk assessments (trail design, site distances, geologic/topographic features, presence of bear food sources).

    To be sure, there are many trails – in Wilderness and elsewhere – that should remain closed to cyclists. The same can be said about other forms of use as well. The central question is whether designations like Wilderness, bear habitat, or simply “my favorite hike” are good criteria for making such access decisions. The unsettling part of Mr. Wilkinson’s piece is his effort to enlist science and data (either non-existent, limited, or deserving of much better qualification) to justify the complete exclusion of cyclists – not just in grizzly country, not just in bear country, but, seemingly, anywhere that wildlife might be found.

    • Hiker says:

      Keep all bikes out of Wilderness. Period. It doesn’t take a genius to realize we all have bias’s, however yours could open a can of worms. If it’s OK to change the rules to suit one group of users why not another? If hikers really are damaging does that mean bikes are less so? There is no doubt that bikes go faster and can go farther. That’s the core issue for many here. Speed kills. Surprising a Griz. is more likely at speed.

      • D. Greenstadt says:

        Speed kills? Animals or humans? Either way, how much killing do you think is going on out there? In 30+ years of fairly widespread mountain bike use in the US and Canada, we seem to have almost zero killing and maybe slightly more injury. Potential negative impacts on bears and other wildlife is a reasonable concern for any form of use, but Wilkinson and others targeting bicycles for exclusion are presenting far too little evidence to support a blanket policy.

        There are a lot of tools and technologies that allow foot and horse visitors to travel further and faster in Wilderness than they would otherwise. If our goal is to minimize or reduce impacts, shouldn’t we look at ALL the ways that the public visits these lands and then apply best management practices? In some places, bicycles and/or other users or technologies should be excluded, regulated, etc.

        Regarding the slippery slope argument you raise, the answer to your “why not another [group]” question is the same answer we’ve hopefully aspired to thus far: If the other group has an impact that is ostensibly similar, then their access should be reasonably considered. That alone doesn’t imply universal bicycle access. Universal access is a luxury currently enjoyed by foot and horse travelers ever since they established or changed the rules to suit themselves. As a hiker, I’m a beneficiary. As a cyclist, I’m frustrated.

        • Hiker says:

          In other words, if a user group complains and whines enough they should have equal access to the best wildlife habitat left in our country, who cares about the consequences? As long as you get what you want. Changing the laws that govern our Wilderness is not like changing a tire, different factions WILL try for access, we’ve already seen National Monuments reduced in size for oil. Is that what you want? Oil and gas instead of clean water and healthy ecosystems?

          • D. Greenstadt says:

            “… if a user group complains and whines enough…” That’s precisely the opposite of what I’m saying. It has nothing to do with how loudly someone may complain. Just imagine how loudly we hikers and equestrians would complain if we were locked out of 110 million acres of Wilderness (and countless other acres)? More importantly, just imagine how much Wilderness we would have today if that had been the aim of the Wilderness Act: likely none.

            What I’m suggesting is that access decisions should be made based on real impacts, data, and science that inform specific decisions in specific places. If existing bicycle routes have enough “Wilderness character” (despite their use by bicycles) to be turned into Wilderness, then we should have a better mechanism than shrinking the Wilderness to exclude those trails. Why wouldn’t you want more Wilderness even if it might allow cyclists to continue their same safe and sustainable use? And if you and I could agree on some other specific trails in existing Wilderness where bicycle access might be ok, shouldn’t we be able to have that conversation? Are you really afraid that my next request will be for oil exploration and dirty water? None of those bad things are contained in any of the specific efforts to gain bicycle access in Wilderness. If and when such threats do arise from other sources, isn’t it better to have more nature-loving allies than fewer? Don’t you want to encourage mountain bikers to continue to fight against those threats as they do now?

            • Hiker says:

              What kind of Wilderness ally demands that the basic laws get changed to suit their needs. I’m not saying that YOU want to drill in Wilderness, just that if YOU get to change things what’s gonna stop the next user group? With friends like you, who needs enemies?

              Access decisions have already been made; against biking in Wilderness. I suggest you get off your bike and go for a hike. Slow done and really enjoy where you are at. Take in all the sights, smells, sounds, and feeling (even taste). How much can you hear over the clatter of your bike? I can hear you coming a long way off. What do you see when you must constantly look where you are going? Do you even notice the birds? What can you feel but the artificial wind you make? Let Nature cool you off. Honestly, what do you really get out of biking on trails? Is it only the thrill? There are literally thousands of miles ready for you to explore. Just don’t forget to read the signs.

              • D. Greenstadt says:

                If you’re equating backcountry cyclists to the enemies of Wilderness, you are grossly misunderstanding the genuine threats to land conservation and environmental protection. But thank you for stating so clearly your conviction that your experience and appreciation of nature is vastly superior to mine when I choose to bring a bicycle. If you can’t appreciate nature while pedaling or pushing a bicycle, then don’t bring one.

                I have a friend who hikes barefoot because he feels closer to nature that way. Assuming you prefer shoes, are you my friend’s enemy because of your inferior and less holy connection to nature? Your anti-cyclist argument is based on your personal aesthetics (or maybe a bad run-in you once had with a person on a bike?). We all have our own preferences and expectations when we visit the public lands, and it’s perfectly reasonable for us to listen, consider, and strive to accommodate each other’s desires. With that in mind, we should have places where hikers, equestrians, boaters, cyclists, barefooters, and others with similar environmental impacts can experience nature – sometimes alone, sometimes sharing.

                Your suggestion that cyclists just go somewhere else is problematic. First, federal Wilderness is now 110 million acres and has been swallowing up an increasing number of cycling trails. Second, backcountry cyclists would like to experience Wilderness for exactly the same reasons that you do – minus your aesthetic objection to bicycles. Thankfully, there’s a potential solution. Whether we consider it a rule change or simply a clarification of original intent, the proposals to lift the blanket regulatory ban on bicycles in Wilderness contain zero allowances for the things that actually threaten the protection of those lands.

                • Hiker says:

                  You are wrong about everything you just wrote. There are plenty of trails for you. They are NOT being gobbled up non-stop by new Wilderness. There are new bikes trails being developed all the time.
                  There is a growing problem in the world and it boils down to too much development and too many people. Everything needs to be done to preserve and protect what is left. If that means pissing off the few bikers who insist on changing the rules to please themselves, so be it.
                  I do not have an anti-bike bias (although those who propose changing Wilderness are making me rethink my stance). I don’t mind sharing the trails with bikes, I see them just about everyday. My problem is with those who wish to change the PROTECTION of the Wild selfishly. If you told me today that hikers would be forbidden in some area I go all the time in order to protect the wildlife I would have no problem with that. I would just go somewhere else. Why can’t you?

  15. idaursine says:

    There is, and it is called the Wilderness Act. “My Favorite Hike” doesn’t qualify as wilderness here, so it is not arbitrary. It is to keep protected previously undeveloped areas from the continual chipping away of development, which was a very wise decision about human nature. It is something our country has made law.

    Education will never be completely successful, because there are those who will always think the rules do not apply to them. With cycling, there is less time to react should one be involved in a dangerous encounter.

    When a fatal encounter should occur, it just adds more fuel to the ‘killing grizzlies and other wildlife for the safety of the public’.


May 2019


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

~ Edward Abbey