Here are the facts. IMBA recently sent out a press release with a headline that reads, IMBA Advocates for Collaborative Approach to Wilderness Designations on Public Lands
So why is my headline so very different (and inflammatory)? Good questions.
But first, a bit of background...
There's currently a bill (H.R. 1349
) in the United States House of Representatives that seeks to allow mountain bikes in Wilderness areas. Since 1984, mechanized vehicles have been banned from the nation's nearly 110 million acres of federally-protected Wilderness. Prior to 1984, the Wilderness ban had been on motorized
vehicles. At the urging of several non-profit organizations, bicycles were explicitly banned from Wilderness in 1984, via new U.S. Forest Service regulations. While some mountain bikers have long advocated that the Forest Service remove the ban and restore their earlier ban on motorized access, this federal agency has steadfastedly refused to budge. Here's a primer on the whole situation.
Consequently, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, began lobbying Congress directly to amend the Wilderness Act itself and allow bikes access into the Wilderness. For a variety of reasons, the only members of Congress who would sponsor STC's proposed legislation have been Republicans and since the Republican contingent of Congress is generally keen to relaxing environmental protection on public lands, there has been fear in some quarters that any bill seeking to amend the Wilderness Act to let in bikes could be hijacked to allow, say, strip mining or fracking or any number of other extractive industries.
For the record, this is a claim that the Sustainable Trails Coalition outright rejects. You can read their position here
IMBA's perspective has always been, and apparently continues to be, that mountain bikers are better off negotiating for boundary adjustments to proposed Wilderness areas that would help retain access to existing, popular mountain bike trails.
There is a lot to unpack here. A lot. So here's what I am going to do. I'm going to park the language of IMBA's press release directly below for you to read. I've reached out to IMBA for an interview, to dive deeper into their stance on this issue. We're still working on the timing of that interview. As soon as it happens, I'll bring you a more in-depth analysis of both IMBA's position and its significance. I'll also reach out to the Sustainable Trails Coalition, to get their take on the shape of things.
Let's not rush to judgement.
In the meantime, here's IMBA's press release.
IMBA Advocates for Collaborative Approach to Wilderness Designations on Public Lands
Mountain Biking Voices Must be Heard and Heeded
(Boulder, Colo. December 6, 2017)
H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), would amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit certain wheeled devices, including mountain bikes, in Wilderness areas. IMBA is not supporting this legislation and has submitted its testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee.
The testimony emphasises IMBA’s respect for the Wilderness Act, IMBA’s collaborative strategy to protect important trails during the development of new conservation designations, IMBA’s work to promote alternative mountain bike-friendly land protections and IMBA’s strong concerns regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s inconsistent management of mountain bike access in recommended wilderness areas.
“IMBA’s 30 years of on-the-ground collaboration and leadership have earned mountain bikers access to tens of thousands of miles of trail on public land,” said Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director. “We’ve made incredible progress for mountain biking through partnerships, and we’re going to continue gaining ground by raising the profile of mountain biking all across America.”
IMBA has been involved in discussions about Wilderness and other forms of legislatively driven protections for public lands for decades. When mountain bikers are given a seat at the table in these discussions, important trails can be protected while finding common ground with those who are looking to create new conservation designations. IMBA is actively working with leaders in the conservation community to ensure this collaborative scenario becomes the standard across the country.
Examples like the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act in Colorado and the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act in Montana have been widely celebrated and serve as models for how collaborative efforts involving mountain bikers throughout the process can lead to advancing both conservation and recreation.
“Mountain bikers and the recreation community depend on public lands and thoughtful conservation. Public lands are being threatened at an unprecedented level right now, and it's imperative that public land users come together to protect these cherished places and offer our voices in this critical dialogue,” said Wiens. “We know Wilderness hits some mountain bikers’ backyards, and we understand why those riders support this legislation. To continue elevating mountain biking nationally, IMBA must remain focused on its long-term strategy for the bigger picture of our sport.”
Some public land planning discussions are less inclusive of all user groups and, in those cases, IMBA will actively oppose new Wilderness and other designations that would negatively impact revered mountain biking opportunities. IMBA has recently raised specific concerns about the the U.S. Forest Service’s management of recommended wilderness with the Secretary of Agriculture, and continues to work with partners to elevate mountain biking in planning processes nationwide. Mountain bikers are exemplary public land stewards and highly engaged advocates who should have a voice in the future of local trails.