Backcountry Horsemen of California Public Lands:
URGENT: Wilderness areas are under attack by mountain bikers once again.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Send a letter to your representative regarding H.R. 1349
Find your representative: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/
You may use the text of this letter as a guide for your letter. Form letters, no matter how many are sent, are counted as one letter, so please change the wording or the order of the paragraphs so that your letter does not appear to be a form letter. Add your own personal experience, if you like. Contact me if you need help drafting your letter.
Dear [your Member of Congress which is Rep. Steve Knight in the Antelope Valley],
Sincerely, [Your name]
Imagine yourself hiking or riding on a trail in the Golden Trout Wilderness. You are deep in thought and enjoying the smell of the pines and the chirp of birds. You are dropping down that last tricky switchback before arriving at Jordan Hot Springs. It’s not a huge drop off, or particularly rocky, but there are tree roots to step over as the trail changes directions. The last thing you hear before being slammed into and launched over the side of the trail is, “On your right!” Or maybe you didn’t get a warning but instead heard the gnashing of metal parts and the slide of rubber tires on the rocky ground before being hit by a wheeled vehicle moving 20 mph and left gravely injured miles from the closest road and hundreds of miles from a hospital.
The mountain biking organizations have been pushing hard to gain access to this one last refuge of hikers and equestrians.
Equestrians have already been forced to abandon trails in the Angeles National Forest and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy because of the danger to them posed by speeding cyclists. An entire generation of disabled and senior citizens are effectively ruled off public lands because of their fears of encounters with fast moving cyclists on narrow mountain trails.
On March 2, 2017, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA 4th District) introduced House bill H.R. 1349 that proposes: “To amend the Wilderness Act to ensure that the use of bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts is not prohibited in Wilderness Areas, and for other purposes.”
The complete text of the bill can be found here: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1349/BILLS-115hr1349ih.xml
“Amends the Wilderness Act of 1964: “Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”
The mountain biking organizations have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this bill passed. Equestrians and hikers need to support their organizations in order to prevent this bill from being passed.
The Backcountry Horsemen of America has taken the position:
“The rapid speeds at which mountain bikes are capable of traveling, combined with their often silent approach, would create significant safety hazards for horsemen on steep, narrow or winding trails.”
Contrary to what Rep. McClintock wants you to believe, this bill is NOT about allowing wheelchairs or game carts or survey wheels, or any of the other wheeled devices listed in the description of the bill. This bill is being pushed through by mountain bikers who see wilderness as their final frontier. Further attacks on the Wilderness Act of 1964 include Sen. Mike Lee’s plan to reintroduce to the Senate this summer his “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act.”
LETTERS SENT IN OPPOSITION
Sent on behalf of the BCHC Antelope Valley Unit and ETI:
The Honorable Rob Bishop, Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources
The Honorable Steve Knight, Representative 25th District, House of Representatives
Dear Honorable Members of Congress:
I am writing on behalf of the Backcountry Horsemen of California (“BCHC”) and Equestrian Trails, Inc., two southern California equestrian groups that I have been elected by the membership to represent.
The equestrians in these organizations are united in their opposition to H.R. 1349. This bill proposes to amend Sections 2 (a) and 4 (c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964 (the “Wilderness Act”) to allow the use of wheeled vehicles and devices, and most disturbingly, mountain bikes, in designated wilderness areas.
The nationwide organization of Backcountry Horsemen of America, of which BCHC is a part of, states in their opposition:
“In the continental U.S., less than 3% of the land is designated wilderness. That’s just 3% of the landscape to which horseman can escape and be assured of a relatively primitive recreational experience. Further, according to the U.S. Forest Service, 98 percent of all the trails on land it manages outside of designated wilderness are open to bicycles.”
Within our membership, there have been a number of equestrians who have had close calls or have been injured from collisions with fast moving mountain bikes, myself included. It is our position that fast moving vehicles are not compatible with foot traffic in wilderness areas, and because of the high rate of speed at which they travel, create a life threatening hazard to travelers on foot or horseback.
Attempts to limit speed or alternate days for various trail users on public lands have not been successful. The “poaching” of trails is its own sport, it appears, and allowing mountain bikes to use trails merely emboldens them to push harder for their exclusive use.
For example, in the “front range” of the Angeles National Forest near Lake View Terrace, where mountain bike travel is allowed, bikers construct illegal ramps and jumps, and other manmade obstacles, on top of single track trails making travel by horseback impossible until these obstacles are removed by trail maintenance volunteers. In Altadena, every trail is fraught with the peril of speeding mountain bikes. It was on the Sunset Trail that a mountain biker came around a blind corner and slid to a stop under my horse on a narrow ledge trail. Because they fear injury from collisions with mountain bikes, the disabled and older riders in my groups have abandoned riding the trails in Altadena, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and other areas where mountain biking has taken over the trails. An entire generation is being forced out of the backcountry because of mountain bikes. The wilderness areas are the last remaining refuge where the disabled and seniors can commune with nature without the fear of being run over by a mountain bike.
Please take note that the International Mountain Biking Association is not supporting this bill and instead proposes a “trail by trail” analysis to adjust proposed wilderness boundaries to allow mountain bikes around newly designated wilderness areas, and does not support any amendment to the Wilderness Act that would allow mountain bikes.
I would ask that you support the longstanding prohibition of bicycles in designated wilderness areas and step away from this ill-advised legislation. The wild places need to remain wild and free from mechanical vehicles and devices.
In the words of Edward Abbey, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” Please be a defender of the wilderness and vote “nay” on this bill.
cc: The Honorable Tom McClintock, Chair, House Subcommittee on Federal Lands
The Honorable Colleen Hanabusa, Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Federal Lands
Michael Reynolds, Acting Director, National Park Service
Letter in opposition sent by the Coalition to Protect National Parks:
The Honorable Rob Bishop, Chairman; and
Dear Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva:
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,170 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). As a group, we collectively represent more than 30,000 years of national park management experience. We believe that our national parks and related public lands represent the very best of America, and advocate for their protection.
The Coalition strongly opposes H.R. 1349, a bill that would amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 (the Act) to authorize the use of non-motorized wheeled vehicles and devices, including bicycles, in designated wilderness areas. The legislation, as proposed, would reverse longstanding prohibitions on the use of bicycles in wilderness and is in direct conflict with the stated purpose and intent of the Act, as stated in Section 2(a) of the Act:
In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness (emphasis added to underlined sections above).
The intent to limit “mechanization” was more specifically addressed in Section 4(c) of the Act, which states:
(c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), 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 (emphasis added to underlined sections above).
The plain language of Section 4 (c) clearly distinguishes between “motors” and the broader category of “mechanization.” It specifically lists and prohibits five distinct categories of mechanical transportation and equipment, including “motorized” forms of transportation and “other forms” of mechanical transport. Despite this, mountain bike advocacy groups claim that wording in the Act is ambiguous with regard to bicycles and that the federal land management agencies with wilderness management responsibilities have misinterpreted and misapplied this section of the Act. The Coalition contends that such claims are not supported by the substantial administrative history of the issue.
While we are opposed to opening wilderness to bicycles, we support the well accepted exception allowing the use of wheelchairs to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in wilderness experiences. Such use is consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and National Park Service Management Policies 2006 Section 6.4.10.
The longstanding prohibition of bicycles in designated wilderness is not merely an agency’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the Act. Modern mountain bikes were not invented until many years after the passage of the Act and legislators could not have reasonably foreseen and therefore explicitly prohibited “mountain bikes” when the Act was passed in 1964. Despite this, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management have consistently prohibited the use of bikes in wilderness since the late 1960’s. And, while the U.S. Forest Service initially interpreted Section 4(c) of the Act to allow the use of bicycles in National Forest wilderness, the Forest Service reconsidered its policy and revised its wilderness regulations in 1977 to expressly prohibit the use of bikes since then. Key to this decision by the four primary Federal land management agencies is that many thousands of miles of trails and an almost infinite variety of landscapes throughout the United States outside of designated wilderness are now available to mountain bike enthusiasts.
We urge attention to the contrast between bicycles in the 1960’s and the advanced technology that is characteristic of most mountain bikes of today. Through the use of strong lightweight space-age materials and advancements in bicycle technology, including special suspension systems and advanced gearing, mountain bikes now are highly efficient non-motorized vehicles. Mountain bikers today are fully capable, if allowed, of accessing and thus impacting even the most remote and rugged wilderness locations in America.
For over 50 years, the Section 4(c) provisions have guided decision-making that protected America’s wilderness areas from the harmful impacts, both ecological and social, of bicycles in places set aside for non-mechanized forms of travel. To reverse this longstanding protection now, when the popularity of backcountry mountain biking is at all-time high, would be a very harmful precedent that would pave the way for proposals for other exceptions to wilderness protections, each supported by their own special interest group(s). Such a precedent is not only in conflict with the intent of the Act, it would inevitably generate controversy and hostility among traditional wilderness users and result in tremendous pressure on wilderness management agencies to prepare costly and time-consuming revisions of existing wilderness management plans and regulations. Much worse, it would inevitably lead to the derogation of the wilderness character of these special places.
In closing, in 1964 the Wilderness Act endures as a unique and increasingly valuable decision by Congress to preserve the wildest and most treasured natural places in America. The Act, as written, has withstood the efforts of groups and individuals to compromise the integrity of these wild places for more than 50 years, and should continue to do so. We urge you to support the longstanding prohibition of bicycles in designated wilderness and step away from this ill-advised legislation.
Maureen Finnerty, Chair
cc: The Honorable Tom McClintock, Chair, House Subcommittee on Federal Lands
"DEDICATED TO THE GENTLE USE OF CALIFORNIA TRAILS AND BACKCOUNTRY"