The New York Times has a longish article focused on conflicts between bears and mountain bikers. The story centers on events in this corner of Montana, so you’ll encounter some familiar names and places . . .
The death of a ranger, Brad Treat, in 2016 was a wake-up call for grizzly bear biologists.
Mr. Treat, an avid mountain biker, was zipping along at about 25 miles an hour through dense forest near Glacier National Park in the middle of a summer afternoon when he collided with a large male grizzly bear.
Apparently startled, the bear reacted defensively and quickly killed him. A witness couldn’t see what happened but could hear it. “I heard a thud and an ‘argh,’” the unnamed witness told investigators. Then the bear made a noise “like it was hurt.” The bear disappeared before emergency responders arrived.
Chris Servheen, recently retired USFWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Manager, is still keeping his hand in. He is quoted extensively in this commentary on bike-bear conflicts in the Mountain Journal. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .
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.
Here’s a good overview of the issues surrounding H.R. 1349, the recently introduced “Wheels Over Wilderness” bill. The NFPA even gets a mention . . .
Advocates of designated wilderness with a capital “W” worry that a new congressional proposal could allow another w-word access to federally protected lands — wheels.
Specifically, mountain bikes, which are currently prohibited in congressionally designated wilderness areas, but also other wheeled devices. As the measure to allow them moves forward, however, it has pitted some user groups against one another while drawing wide opposition from environmental organizations.
A bill introduced to Congress last week by California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock would amend the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow the use of certain wheeled devices, including mountain bikes, in Wilderness areas — a use that has historically been prohibited on the nation’s 110 million acres of federally protected land.
Debo Powers, who has been sending in lots of links lately, spotted this opinion piece regarding a poorly thought out bill that would allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas. Seriously? . . .
Congress is currently considering legislation that would undermine a bedrock law that protects America’s iconic landscapes, our traditional way of life, and the wild landscapes that we’ve safeguarded for generations. This shortsighted proposal should be defeated.
H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), would re-write the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit mountain bikes in America’s wilderness, where they have been prohibited for more than a half-century.
The National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 law, ensures that some of our remaining wild country remains as it has been for hundreds of years. By law, wilderness areas do not allow road building and other forms of development, and prohibit motorized and mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes.
Here’s a pretty good article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News about bikes in wilderness — specifically, about allowing mountain bikes in a possible North Fork wilderness area . . .
As the Flathead National Forest puts the finishing touches on a final Forest plan, one issue is rising to the forefront: Should bicycle use be allowed in areas that are recommended wilderness?
Central to the debate is proposed wilderness in the North Fork. Under alternative B in the draft plan, there’s about 80,000 acres of recommended wilderness in the plan in the upper end of the Whitefish Range north of Red Meadow Creek. Recommended wilderness is generally managed as wilderness, but under alternative B, the plan would allow continued mountain bike use in the region.
Rebecca Powell of Columbia Falls has an excellent op-ed making the rounds regarding bicycling in wilderness areas. It has appeared in the Hungry Horse News and in the Flathead Beacon so far . . .
By now you have probably heard from both sides of the debate on allowing mountain bikes into federally designated Wilderness. They are too fast, they will scare my horse, bikers play loud rap music. On the other side, bikers argue that they are low impact, human powered and can bring much needed funding for trail maintenance in these areas. Both arguments have valid points. But let’s just push pause here and think about it.
In the 1800s as the industrial revolution was sweeping the nation it seemed as though no person or no area was safe from impact and modification of man. In seeking to “improve” the standard of living we went from producing things by hand, to everything produced by machine. Fast forward a few decades and enter the conservation movement and forward thinking of people like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall to name a few. These visionaries could see the benefits of designating large swaths of lands, ecosystems where industry was not dominate and had very little influence. From here came the Wilderness act of 1964 that states, “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 … 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.”
Bikes have been around much longer than the Wilderness Act, but in the 1950s and ‘60s, just as the Wilderness Act was taking hold, bicycles were being modified to operate better off road and on trails. Tires getting bigger, frames lighter and people were able to access areas on bike that were not possible just years before. Visit any bike shop in the world and you will see that bikes are still evolving. Lighter, faster, tougher than ever before. The bike industry does not have nor should they have a pause button on the technology. There is no doubt that bikes are fun. Really fun. It’s a great way to exercise, spend time outdoors and challenge yourself. I love riding my bike on roads and on mountain trails and I am grateful for the advancements that are made each year.
Today in America we have just about 110 million acres of federally designated wilderness. Traveling in these areas is like stepping back in time. Wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced technology dependent society. Each year as we evolve, we become more dependent on technology and less connected to wild places. When we are more comfortable connected to urban and technological landscapes, we are less likely to let it go and seek refuge in the wilderness. Just ask a teenager to put down their phone for a few hours and you will see.
Wilderness is a place where the pause button of industry has been pushed and modern conveniences are not allowed. The tools and equipment used to travel and work in the wilderness have not changed in the last 50 years. Trail crews are still using crosscut saws operated by hand instead of the quickness and convenience of chainsaws. Horses and mules are used to transport heavy loads and posting an update to your Instagram, Twitter, etc. is nearly impossible. Let’s keep some areas in this world free of the burdens of technological evolution. Let’s protect the place where you can engulf all of your senses in in the natural world just as it was 100 years, 10 years even two years ago and will remain 100 years from now. Mountain bikes have their place on trails, but let’s keep them out of these special places. Please keep mechanised transportation out of your wilderness areas.
Looks like the Sustainable Trails Coalition folks found someone to front a mountain bike bill for them . . .
Two Utah senators have introduced legislation that would allow federal officials, such as U.S. Forest Service supervisors, to decide whether mountain bikes could be used on sections of trail in designated wilderness areas.
U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-UT, and Orrin Hatch, R-UT, are proposing the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act, a bill that would change the rule banning bikes in protected wilderness, such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
Here’s a pretty good article by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian on the issue of ‘high speed recreation’ in backcountry areas. Despite the title, it’s not just about mountain bikes . . .
Two weeks before a Kalispell man died in a bicycle collision with a bear near Glacier National Park, an ultra-marathon runner in New Mexico was mauled by a bear she encountered on a New Mexico trail…
On Thursday, an estimated 2,500 people paid their respects to Brad Treat at a memorial service in Kalispell’s Legends Stadium on Thursday. The 38-year-old Forest Service law enforcement officer died on June 29 after colliding with a bear on his bicycle while pedaling on a trail near Halfmoon Lake.
That same Thursday in Missoula, grizzly bear advocates were warning U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Wayne Kasworm about the dangers posed by high-speed recreation in bear habitat.
Mountain bikes should never be permitted in wilderness. Consider this potential scenario: A packstring is slowly making its way down through Gateway Gorge, coming off the bench from Sabido Cabin deep in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The trail is steep, rocky and narrow and it’s a long way down to the creek bottom.
The wreck took place about half way through the gorge. Half the packstring went off the edge. Two mules went down in the bottom, floundering and flopping around with broken legs; packs and gear strewn all over; pack boxes smashed to bits. The packer luckily stayed on his mount and tried to keep the rest of the string together. It started almost instantly, with no time for the packer to even know what was happening as two mountain bikers came down from the top, hell-bent for leather, and came up from behind the packstring.
A legal change to allow bikes in federal wilderness hasn’t been introduced in Congress yet, but the issue already has advocates riled and rolling.
Last week, a coalition of conservation groups published a letter asking congressional delegations to “reject calls to amend the Wilderness Act to allow for the use of mountain bikes in designated Wilderness.” The coalition included Montana-based Wilderness Watch, Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen of Montana and North Fork Preservation Association, among others.
They aimed their concern at proposed legislation drafted by a national mountain-biking group called Sustainable Trails Coalition, which also claims members in Montana. STC President Ted Stroll said the bill would move the decision about allowing bicycles in wilderness or proposed wilderness areas to the local forest supervisor level, instead of the national agency headquarters. It would also allow federal land managers to use mechanized and wheeled tools to maintain trails in federal wilderness.