Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Response to John Fisch’s “Responses to the 10 most common arguments against mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.”

I’d just like to take this opportunity to respond to the many misconceptions put forward by John Fisch in his article “Responses to the 10 most common arguments against mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.” There has been considerable buzz about this topic ever since IMBA did a press conference saying they would not seek changes to the Wilderness Act. It seems that IMBA has seen through some of the false and misleading statements generated by people like John Fisch

John wrote in his opening statement “Bear in mind that nobody is seeking access to 100% of all Wilderness trails 100% of the time, only that the blanket ban be removed and trails be assessed for cycling suitability on a case-by-case basis.” Really. Having Wilderness Areas considering mountain biking on a case-by-case basis is an administrative nightmare. It will cost millions to do the Environmental Impact Statements for mountain biking in 765 Wilderness Areas. And those Statements may not allow mountain bikes into a specific Wilderness Area after everything is said and done. Mountain bikers will be constantly asking for more areas to be opened up and will be protesting if the land manager decides against mountain biking.

So here are my responses to John Fisch’s points.

1. Bikes are mechanical
Damn right they are mechanical. And no version of Mountain Bikes is not mechanical. Meanwhile, the other mechanical devices that John cites, XC skis and oarlocks, were originally made out of wood. In ancient times XC skis were a long piece of wood with leather straps to attach them to your boots. Oarlocks were originally two pieces of wood mounted on the side of a boat. John also states that backpackers are hauling into the wilderness higher technology than bikes. He says “nobody would complain about carrying a GPS into the Wilderness.” Well, John nailed it because nobody would complain about carrying a GPS into the Wilderness. That’s just it, people are carrying the GPS unit. The GPS units are not carrying the people. There is no “mechanical transport” involved with a GPS Unit.

2. The Wilderness Act prohibits bikes.

Yes it does. John quotes the Wilderness Act “... 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.” Just from that sentence alone you would have to say mountain bikes are banned. The sentence says “no use of motorized vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats,” then it goes on to say “no other form of mechanical transport.” It’s obvious from the sentence structure that “no other form of mechanical transport” can mean transport other than motorized transport. The mere fact that it says “no other form” emphasizes that. If “mechanical transport” is supposed to mean, “motorized transport,” well, they just could have used the word “motorized.” They used the word “motorized” or “motor” three other times in that sentence, why not use it again. And to that point, having the words “mechanical transport” mean “motorized transport” would have been redundant.

Also, John writes, “Knowing this, the USFS in implementing the Act defined mechanical as “powered by a non living source.”” Well, John, I’m sorry that a misguided Forest Service Rule doesn’t take priority over the Wilderness Act. You have to remember that the Forest Service was a hostile participant in the Wilderness Act. They actually testified against the Wilderness Act. Meanwhile, the Forest Service is just one of 4 agencies that manages Wilderness areas. The National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management all have a equal standing in managing Wilderness Areas and none of those agencies have the “non living power source” rule in regards to the Wilderness. And another thing John didn’t mention is that when the Forest Service finally got on board with the Wilderness Act, they did specifically ban mountain bikes in their Wilderness Areas.

Also, John writes “The Rattlesnake Wilderness Act of 1980 states…” which is totally wrong. That’s not the name of the Act. The actual name of the Act is “Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980.” So, basically the passage that John quoted was talking about a National Recreation Area, and not necessarily a Wilderness Area. Come on, John, changing the name of an Act of Congress. How low can you go? No wonder IMBA isn’t supporting your cause when you are spewing misinformation like that.

The actual name of the Act is "Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980"

3. Bikes are inconsistent with Wilderness Values
Let’s take a look at a section of the Wilderness Act that John quoted “An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence…” So, Wilderness Areas need to keep a “primeval character” about them. What does that mean? The word “primeval” means “of the first ages” or “from ancient times.” XC skis and Oarlocks, the devices that John is complaining about in item 1, date back to centuries before Christ. In fact, a fragment of a ski found in Russia dates back to 6000 BC. So, XC skis and oarlocks are primeval in character. Mountain bikes date back to 1981 when the first commercially made mountain bike was manufactured. Mountain bikes are not simple devices and they are not primeval in character.

An Ancient drawing of a Cross Country Skier

4. Environmental Impacts
John writes “However, independent scientific research has proven that given similar conditions, hiking and biking wear on the land is similar,” Well, John, have you ever looked at the studies you are talking about. Basically, the studies have mountain bikers and hikers travel through side-by-side test plots. In those plots mountain biking damage is no more severe than hiking damage. But here’s a quote from the article John listed as a reference: “While Taylor and Knight found no biological justification for managing mountain biking any differently than hiking, they note that bikers cover more ground in a given time period than hikers and thus can potentially disturb more wildlife per unit time.” So, after reading that, do mountain bikers do more damage than hikers? Yes, because mountain bikers travel twice or three times as far as hikers in a given time period.

5. Wilderness is a place for a slower pace, so we may properly enjoy it
John writes, “When I hike, my average speed is 2.5 – 3 mph. When I ride a challenging backcountry trail, my average speed is 4 – 6 mph.” John is right on about the hiker speed at 2.5 – 3 mph, but his mountain biking speed is questionable. He says he rides that pace on a “challenging backcountry trail.” What if the trail in the Wilderness is not all that challenging? Let’s take a look at a couple rules for mountain biking. Annadel State Park in California has a speed limit for mountain bikes at 15 mph. That’s 5 to 6 times faster than an average hiker. Mammoth Cave National Park also has a speed limit of 15 mph for mountain bikes on their trails. Mountain bikers are quite capable of achieving and sustaining much greater speeds than 4 -6 mph.

Also, John writes “While on my bike, I have been passed by trail runners in hardcore training or trying to set personal bests on backcountry routes.” Well, if mountain bikes are allowed in Wilderness Areas, won’t mountain bikers be doing the exact same thing? I’m sure there will be mountain bikers out there trying to set their personal best on a section of trail. Plus there will be mountain bikers using the Strava app to establish the fastest time on a section.

6. Bikes “shrink” the Wilderness
John writes “modern backpacking equipment makes multi-day trips easier, allowing hikers to penetrate deeply into the Wilderness as well.” The funny thing about that is mountain bikers can use the exact same equipment as a backpacker. Mountain bikers can use the exact same tent, backpacking stove, and a myriad of other equipment. But the main difference is that backpackers will be doing it on “multi-day trips” where mountain bikers can cover the same ground in just a day or two.

Bikepacking.com reviews the same tent a backpacker would use.

Plus there are many horseback riders who would disagree with John’s statement: “At least a bike requires fitness and skill on the part of its rider, while a horse does not.”

7. User Conflicts
There was a January 20, 2015 article in the Merced Sun Star called “Exchequer Mountain Bike Park on the trail to completion” It’s about a new mountain bike-only trail system in California. Here is a quote from the article: “When the network is complete, Exchequer will be the state’s largest bike-only park. Many of California’s most popular trails have conflicts among cyclists, hikers and equestrians. Making this area exclusive to bikes eliminates that problem.” So other mountain bikers are acknowledging that there are trail conflicts. Having separate trails for separate users is a way to resolve trail conflict. It has worked great in several places including the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, where they have separate and very popular trail systems for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Plus the issue isn’t totally about User Conflict. It’s also about User Experience. If a hiker wants to go out hiking on a trail for some peace and solitude, having a mountain biker come barreling down a narrow trail at a hiker does not fit into that plan. It’s perfectly okay to have some trails that are shared by hikers and mountain bikes. But it’s also okay to have trails for just hikers.

8. Why can’t we have a place of our own?
Well, why can’t we? As stated in item #7, mountain bikers are creating their own trails for just mountain biking near Lake McClure in California. If that’s the case then why can’t hikers have their own trails, too?

9. You have plenty of other places to ride
No, there is not enough mountain biking trail access in the United States. But advocating mountain biking out in the middle of nowhere isn’t helping. Instead, mountain biking trails are needed where the people are, near the suburbs and the cities.

Also, John brings out the following statistic: “Colorado has 4,433,000 acres of roadless area. Of that roadless area, 3,735,000 acres is Designated Wilderness. This means bikes are banned from over 84% of the roadless areas in Colorado by Wilderness designation alone.” Well, mountain bikers like John say hikers shouldn’t mind mountain bikers speeding down the trail at the hikers. But all of a sudden, if there is a road within a mile of a mountain biking trail, then that totally freaks out John. John doesn’t mention that all told there are 14,509,000 acres of public land in Colorado. So, doing the math on that, there are over 10 million acres of land that potentially mountain bikers can build trails on. Surely there are some great places to go mountain biking in those 10 million acres.

10. So, today you want bikes. What’s next, Motorcycles? ATVs? Jeeps?

How about oilrigs, mining and logging. STC and their proponents act like their little bill will go through Congress and hardly nothing will change or be tacked onto it. Well, I have news for them. The North Country Trail had a bill they were trying to get through Congress a couple years ago. It was a simple bill, which allows the NCT to buy land from "willing sellers." Several other National Scenic Trails have this provision, but the NCT doesn't. Well, the Republicans tacked on so much stuff to the bill, including fracking near the trail in Pennsylvania, the NCTA didn't want the bill anymore.

A Fracking Operation in Pennslyvania. The North Country Trail goes through western Pennsylvania 

Even Vernon Felton, the mountain biking writer has said, "Our public lands are under increasing attack from people who want to clear cut, mine and frack the living hell out of it." Vernon is right. In my state, Wisconsin, the Republican Legislature and Governor let a mining company write an environmental law. Now, the Sustainable Trails Coalition wants the Republicans to take up their cause. Sounds like a recipe for disaster

So, that brings us to another common argument against mountain biking in the Wilderness. This one John missed in his article. In Congress everything has been on the table from gutting environmental laws to selling off public lands. The Sierra Club and Wilderness Society are not going to want the Wilderness Act to be opened up now in this political environment. Those two groups have more clout in Washington than any other group besides the NRA. So, we’ll see how the Sustainable Trails Coalition efforts work out. My guess is that they will get a Republican Congressman to sponsor their bill, but then the opposition will come out in full force. Only 5% of the Bills before Congress ever become law. So, the “Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015” will just end up like the other 95% of the Bills that never go anywhere. STC says they have collected over $90,000 for lobbying. It will be sad to see all of that money wasted on this issue when it could have been used to build new mountain biking trails. But, on the bright side, after they’ve wasted all of that money and gotten nowhere, this issue will finally be over.

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