The Missoulian has an excellent story on the board of review findings concerning last summer’s mountain biker fatality. It includes links to the actual report document, as well as to the board’s recommendations for alleviating future biking-bear encounters . . .
An analysis of the fatal collision last summer between a grizzly bear and a mountain biker near Coram recommends more safety evaluation before new biking trails are built in grizzly habitat.
“Current safety messaging at trailheads and in the media is usually aimed at hikers,” the interagency board of review report stated. “However mountain biking is in many ways more likely to result in injury or death from bear attacks to people who participate in this 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.”
This is a response to the Mountain-Bicycles-in-Wilderness effort. First, a bit about me – I have four bikes; a Specialized Allez road bike, an old Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike, a Surly Pugsley fat tire bike, and a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. I ride them all at various times. I live 30-plus miles from the nearest telephone pole. North of Polebridge, there is no electric grid. Part of each year, I spend several months living on top of a mountain as a forest fire lookout looking for fire. I write all of this to define what forms my thoughts.
I love to ride my fat tire bike back in the woods/mountains where I’m allowed, and where I’m not allowed – I respect the rules of Wilderness. I love knowing Wilderness is there and is a constant sanctuary left the way it was and I hope that it always stays as it is. The attitude of the Sustainable Trails Organization http://www.sustainabletrailscoalition.org and The International Mountain Bicycling Association https://www.imba.com/ remind me of a petulant child – one who is sitting in a supermarket cart full of nutritious food, who leans towards the candy display and screams “I want that.” A temper tantrum focusing not on what they have, only what they don’t have.
I say no bikes in existing Wilderness. There are so many more acres to ride bikes than designated wilderness – BLM Lands, national forest lands and state lands. Where I live, there is a coalition of folks who gathered together to find common ground on national forest land use. They are called the Whitefish Range Partnership and this partnership consists of a diverse group of snowmobilers, loggers, mountain bikers, wilderness advocates, backcountry horsemen, private landowners and other special interest groups. They have collaborated to come to a mutual multi-use land plan for the Whitefish Range that satisfies each of the groups. This agreement was reached by consensus … unanimous agreement. Then, it was submitted as a proposal to the Flathead National Forest in its planning process. No one got exactly what they wanted, but they came to an agreement that they could all live with and enjoy. I feel that future Wilderness designations will come about as a result of collaborative efforts and contain compromises to satisfy the various land use interests.
I’m hoping that the various mountain bike groups here in Montana realize what a precious place our Wilderness Areas are and that they work to lead the way for other mountain bicycle groups to leave them alone. And, that they also lead the way to create new trails through collaboration with other groups. But I don’t want existing wilderness rules to change.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) personnel have received additional information on the bear attack on a mountain biker on June 29 on Forest Service property a few miles south of West Glacier. Brad Treat, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service, was fatally mauled when he encountered a bear while riding his mountain bike on the Green Gate/Half Moon trail system off of U.S. Highway 2. Treat was found dead by officers at the scene of the attack.
Based on the Wildlife Human Attack Response Team investigation, Treat collided with the bear in a surprise encounter on a section of trail that contains limited sight distances, which lead to a very short reaction time before the collision. The team collected evidence samples that were submitted in an effort to determine animal species, sex, DNA profile and whether this is a known or unknown bear.
The DNA results show that the bear involved in the collision and subsequent attack was a known male grizzly bear, approximately 20 years of age. This bear has no management history and as far as we know the bear has not had any previous conflicts with humans. The bear was captured and released in 2006 in Glacier National Park as part of an ongoing research project and at that time was aged at approximately 8 – 10 years. Due to the parameters of the research project the bear was not fitted with a radio collar. The bear was again identified through DNA from hair samples collected from rub trees in 2009 and 2011.
At this time, FWP has concluded its investigation into this incident.
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.
I shouldn’t be writing this, and you shouldn’t be reading it. Far more pressing issues face our public lands. But a vocal minority is drudging up the long-resolved question of mountain biking in wilderness. They have even drafted a bill for somebody to introduce in Congress — the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act — that would open wilderness to biking. That means we have to pause and rehash the facts.
First, no legal argument supports biking in wilderness. Unambiguously, the 1964 Wilderness Act states there shall be no “form of mechanical transport” in wilderness areas. The discussion should end there, but a few claim that “mechanical transport” somehow does not include bicycles. They allege that the law unintentionally excluded an activity that emerged after it was enacted. Or they tout an early Forest Service misinterpretation of the law, which initially allowed bicycles in wilderness but was corrected over 30 years ago.
The arguments have no legal merit. Worse, they ignore the historical context and foresight of the Wilderness Act, one of our foundational environmental laws. In doing so, they distract people from truly understanding our public lands. That’s not good for people or the land.
Debo Powers passed along the following op-ed saying, “This is a beautiful article about wilderness written by a mountain biker who has realized that some places need to remain wild.”
Excellent essay. Recommended reading . . .
I grew up in the era of nature writers. In college I took a class called “Wilderness and the American Mind.” Most of my early exposure to wild lands took place on long, grueling backpacking trips during which we trudged for hours under heavy loads to reach magical places far from the madding crowd.
Wilderness served as my church. I found solace and inspiration sitting by an alpine lake, listening to the gentle lap of water on the rocks, watching the sky shift from cornflower blue to pink to purple as the sun sank behind the peaks.
But my relationship with wilderness shifted as my life changed. I found it harder to make the extended trips necessary to reach truly wild places. I grew weary of carrying heavy packs and opted instead for light, fast trips. My mountain bike became my preferred mode of transportation. That or a packraft. Somehow, without me noticing it, I began to view wild places as a place for recreation, a playground rather than a church.
The Daily Inter Lake posted a friendly editorial on the work of the Whitefish Range Partnership Saturday evening . . .
A group called the Whitefish Range Partnership should be commended for efforts to guide long-term forest planning on the Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
To say that the group of about 30 people representing highly diverse interests were not on the same page at the beginning would be a huge understatement. But after meeting regularly over a 13-month period, with a specific rule that all parties involved would have to sign onto a complete package of recommendations or abandon the effort entirely, the partnership came to a complete consensus on a 58-page set of recommendations.
They addressed potentially conflicting issues such as recommended wilderness, motorized summer use, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and timber harvesting.