Does this look like Industrial Recreation to you? (Warm Springs Ridge in the Allan Mountain IRA during the Lost Trail Bike Fest. This was about 11:00 on a day with 150 riding trails in the area)
Or This? (A busy day on Razorback Ridge in the Blue Joint WSA when it was open to bikes)
How about this? (Put in for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River)
Or finally ... (Average summer day on Mt. Bierstadt)
Two recent articles, here and here, in the Mountain Journal, would have you believe that mountain bikers are one of the greatest threats to Wilderness in the United States., not the American Lands Council or mining.
A the core of the two jeremiads are two core fallacies and a slew of ridiculous statements such as bike chains are too noisy (yet too quiet for bears to notice) or bikes are kinetically powered, whatever than means. I was tempted to just ignore them since they aren't that original. If you have read an article opposing bikes in the backcountry you have probably read something similar. After the first article I had a spirited interaction with the author in the Facebook comments (which to their credit they had not deleted when I last checked) where I asked to to provide some evidence to back up his allegations. Instead I got links to Outside Magazine Articles and to a You Tube video of a lift served downhill mountain biker at Jackson Hole.
The first lie is that there is only motivation for mountain biking and that is to go fast. For him there is no climbing, no pushing bikes, no sharing vistas with friends.
"when you are mountain biking, you are making tracks along steep trails strewn with rocks and have little time to admire the scenery; you are staring over handlebars toward the ground...while fast tracking through the Teton Wilderness, you don’t have time to reflect on the needs of the grizzly, the wolf or even other wilderness travelers; the focus is on yourself and the track a few yards ahead."
The idea that a mountain biker could be bike packing, or hoping for a bear sighting or hoping to stop and relax next to a lake seems like an impossibility. Rather than seeing us as fellow travelers out for an escape from civilization seems entirely alien. It's as if he watched a Red Bull video and decided that encompassed the entire sport rather than just a small niche that is the most likely to garner views and likes. As such he fears that the backcountry will be transformed into energy drink fueled huckfests. All I can say is that jaundiced view is misplaced. For him there are only two option for wilderness. Either a bike free paradise or a resort styled bike park. The idea that there is a middle ground of managed use. The Middle Fork of the Salmon has 30,000 visitors through the heart of Frank Church / River of No Return Wilderness Area. Every day during the summer season 7 groups and around 100 people depart from the put in every day. I had the luck of being one of those people this year. Did we see other people. Yes. we also saw numerous herds of big horn sheep, two black bears along shore, deer, ducks, geese. bald eagled, and of course cutthroat trout. In Colorado another 30,000 people climb Mt. Bierstadt in the Mt., Evans Wilderness. Teton Pass in the winter is so crowded with backcountry skiers they have volunteers to monitor the parking lots. People have been mountain biking in the Ten Lakes WSA for decades and despite the "explosive" growth of mountain biking maybe 100 - 200 people a year ride bikes there. Despite decades of riding in the Boulder/ White Clouds still qualified for wilderness. The fact is these trails are difficult, they are remote, and the people who ride them have a different tempment than the folks in YouTube videos. To ride in these areas you need to be looking for something different than a quick adrenaline fix. So let's stop with the lie that mountain bikers are uniquely responsible for degrading the backcountry. If you head outdoors you are part of the problem and part of the solution. It doesn't matter whether your goal is quiet reflection or something more energetic, you are the bear's guest and you are wearing out your welcome the moment you touch dirt.
The second lie is that there is one and only one way to experience wilderness and that is slow and quiet, to way as the First People's did. When did wilderness turn into a such dour experience? When did the Aboriginal tribes turn into a bunch of Church Ladies? What happened to hunting, vision quests, hallucinogens, fighting, loving? Wilderness is about escaping the confines of urban and suburban life and connect with natural world and our primal nature; to realize that we aren't separate from creation, but part of it. To do that we need to do more than whisper in the cathedral of trees and tiptoe through wildflower meadows. It means learning to move like a bear, howl like wolf, and fly like a bird. We need to be expanding our horizons, embracing the vibrant and passionate, along with contemplation and reverie. Don't just walk, run. Don't just whisper, laugh with joy. As much as we may want to play at being pre-industrial hunter gathers in the wilderness. No one is venturing out there with the Clovis toolset and surviving. (Of course as far I know there may be some reality show out there where they are doing that, but I'm not aware of it.) We all make compromises with modern life whether camp stoves, waterproof fabrics. The question isn't is this too modern. The question is, does this piece of technology bring me closer to nature or does to distance me, In every case the answer is going to be a balance of both. In the end we need to come together to protect a landscape we all love without judging whether other people have the right attitude or beliefs.
Anyone who mountain bikes is likely familiar with the term, mechanical transportation and the claim that it is distinct from motorized forms of travel. Presumably then other activities in the forest should follow the same logic. So when I heard the phrase, mechanical thinning I assumed it must be some type of non motorized logging. So I did some googling. Guess which image came up.
Mechanical thinning and forest fire hazard reduction.
Logging in the Rattlesnake.
USFS forest management
Can we stop pretending that in common parlance mechanical means heavy machinery, not bikes?
Now that STC has a bill in the senate, it seemed like a good time to see what the senator who shepherded the Wilderness Act through congress had to say. In 1977, thirteen years after the passage of the wilderness Act he gave a speech titled, "Wilderness in a Balanced Land Use Framework." If you haven't read the text, and your are interested in the management of wilderness, this is one of key historical documents you should.
The title of the speech is indicative of his beliefs; wilderness needs to be seen as part of land use spectrum. This doesn't mean that he didn't believe in wilderness. He risked his political in career in 1962 supporting the wilderness act during his re-election campaign despite the near universal opposition of the political and business community in Idaho at the time. In an echo of Obamacare, the newspapers in Idaho. labelled it the Church Wilderness Bill. Despite the opposition, he won re-election and went on to see the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, He followed up in 1968 championing the Land and Water Conservation Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Along with his dedication to preservation, he valued using and recreating on our public land. In his introductory remarks John Ehrenreich, dean of the College of Forestry. Wildlife and Range Sciences at the University of Idaho at the time of the speech had this to say ,"Less publicized but also important are the Senator's continuing efforts to provide justified funding for Federal management programs to insure multiple use benefits from public lands." If anyone knew the intent of congress when the Wilderness Act was passed it would be him. While he never explicitly mentions bikes hopefully we can divine some of his beliefs.
"That's not the point Senator. Maybe some just plain people do enjoy the wilderness. Still they're not the majority. Most of us want to drive through the woods and find places to park our campers. The great outdoors is OK, but we like a little comfort, too."
Before the no bikes in wilderness crowd start jumping up down shouting, "He said wheels. He said wheels." Let's keep everything in context. He was replying to a question about driving and campers. In the same sentence he mentions pavement, billboards, and resorts. All things associated with automobiles and road trips, not quiet rides on bikes.
Much like Aldo Leopold he sees wilderness as a response to cars and development. For those of us who bike the backcountry our goals are the same as the wilderness seekers he describes. We aren't riding the trails for comfort. We want the land left alone as a sanctuary for adventure and yes, for a place to get away from it all.
"Valid as the verdict favoring wilderness was then - and is now - the fears of those who opposed the Wilderness Bill in 1962 have not proved to be unfounded The concept of expanding wilderness has extended far beyond the limits of the original bill."
With 52 million acres of wilderness in the lower 48 states,For those of who are passionate about protecting wilderness and believe that while the current 52 million acres of wilderness is more that was anticipated still think there are additional areas still in need of protection, yet have seen our favorite trails closed seemingly more for the fundraising and press release needs of distant wilderness advocates than local preservation concerns, the issues raised forty years ago continue to ring true today.
"My final comments tonight concern the issue of wilderness purity. Time after time, when we discuss wilderness,questions are raised about how developed an area can be and still qualify as wilderness, or what kind of activities within a wilderness area are consistent with the purposes of the Wilderness Act. I believe, and many citizens agree with me, that the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and thus misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed."
If you peruse the arguments against bikes in wilderness, one point that keeps coming up is that recreation is not a primary goal of wilderness. It seems to me that for Senator Church,m recreation is the reason for wilderness, and that the rules don't need to be overly strict as long as the use isn't negatively impacting the landscape. In many of the newer wilderness areas such as the Boulder White Clouds and the Montana WSAs bikes are an established us, and if they were able to grandfather grazing and power boats in 1964, allowing bikes in areas where we have been riding for decades should be a no brainer.
"This was the scene over the weekend on the Blodgett Creek Trail #19 below 7-mile meadow where a major blowdown event has occurred and is now blocking the trail. As many as 300 trees may have been toppled in the microburst which likely occurred in late June. Volunteers with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation cleared 151 trees this weekend, many which were 35-40 inches in diameter! Four saw teams were able to clear 1.5 miles of trail. Our Forest trail crews will continue clearing these trees up to Blodgett Pass. Stock users are discouraged from using the trail beyond milepost 7 at this time as they will not be able to get through. It will take us several more weeks to clear the trail... we will keep you updated here on our progress :) ."
The above quote was from a recent Facebook post from the Bitterroot National Forest. At some level I understand the opposition to chainsaws for trail maintenance. The Forest Service wants to set an example on how to behave in Wilderness, Still it seems that nostalgia for cross cut saws and mule trains occasionally overrides practical management concerns. Is closing a trails for several weeks during peak season appropriate? What has more impact a couple days of transient chainsaw noise or several weeks of a trail crew camp?
"Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there,we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending to our resources as we should - not a people in despair scratching everyone last nook and cranny of our land for a board of limber, a barrel or film a blade of grass, or tank of water"
Many hands involved in the creation of the Wilderness Act. Some such as the original author Howard Zahniser had a more restrictive vision of wilderness. Other's such as Senator Church and others in Congress were more generous in the interpretation. In the subsequent 50 years, groups such as the Wilderness Society have promoted, as would be expected, a purist vision, and have been successful in having that vision implemented. Perhaps now is the time to reconsider and recognized the value of the more pragmatic approach espoused by Senator Frank Church.
In 1935 Robert Marshall, Benton McKaye, H. C. Anderson, Harvey Broome, and Robert Sterling Yard got together to discuss their common vision for wilderness and the threats to wilderness as they saw it, and with that meeting founded the Wilderness Society. Could that original meeting throw some light onto "no other form of mechanical transport"? Well as it happens the minutes from that meeting still exist, and while there is no smoking gun I think those minutes do clarify some things.
First they recognized that wilderness is a spectrum and they identified five types of wilderness.
The dominant attributes of such areas are: first, that visitors to them must depend on largely on their own efforts and their own competence for survival; and second they be free from all mechanical disturbances.
For Wilderness Zones,
Such Zones not only are primarily free from man-made sights and sounds, but also permit long journeys under the impetus of one's own energies instead of those of a machine.
From these excerpts it is clear that being human powered is critical. Like I said the minutes will not clear up all ambiguity and I'm sure references to mechanized and machine will reinforce the opinions of people opposed to bikes in the backcountry
Later on they list mechanical and modern invasions they were concerned about
(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
What's clearly on both lists.
What about Railroads, cog roads funiculars, cableways, etc? Do they seem match up with anything from the Wilderness Act. Motorized Equipment, maybe; but mechanized transport definitely. I'm sure some will argue that the "etc" should include bikes, but I don't believe the vast majority of people would interpret "etc" so expansively.
Is this conclusive that the founders would be railing berms if they were alive today? No, it is clear they had concerns about modern technology interfering with solitude and nature. Still, I think it is strongly supports the argument that Ted Stroll made that "other mechanical transport" means the passive transport of people and supplies and not human powered activities.
Using their guidance, what sort of recommendations would I make for mountain bikes access? Some areas, those that are the most untouched my man should continue to exclude bikes. Trails should remain primitive without improvements other than to prevent erosion or damage. Areas where bikes have a history of existing use such as the WSAs and recommended wilderness areas of Montana and recent additions to the Wilderness Preservation Systems such as the Boulder White Clouds should have managed use to maintain these areas solitude. Other areas compatible to the restricted wild areas could also have managed use.
No we haven't had a change of heart, that's the title of a letter to Congress from a collection of smaller conservation organizations. Not that there was anything in substance in the letter other than taking "mechanized" out of context and claiming that see the Wilderness Act banned bikes. Any one reading this blog knows how vacuous that argument is.
Contrary to what people may think, I think there is an important discussion to had about the role of technology in wilderness. Many concerns I have heard such as, the loss blank spaces on maps, the use modern and even not so modern conveniences as a crutch that can diminish the wilderness experience, carrying capacity are valid and need to be addressed and strategies that find a workable balance need to be created. Unfortunately, running around yelling, "mechanized, mechanized" over and over again advances the conversation about as much as putting your hands over your ears and repeating, "nyah, nyah, I can't hear you."
I wasn't surprised by several of the organizations who had signed on, but I was saddened to see several Backcountry Horsemen chapters sign on, including both of the chapters from the Bitterroot. I had hoped that some of our joint trail work might have soften some hearts. One of the reasons I'm disappointed with the Horsemen is their own backstory. What many people don't realize is that in the 70s there was a push to close the Bob Marshall Wilderness to horses because in their own words, "The back country was being loved to death by the placement of permanent camps, corrals, piles of garbage, not to mention human waste, and dying trees due to stock being tied to them causing root damage. " So this group horsemen organized and used a combination of stewardship, lobbying in Washington, and litigation to assure continued access to wilderness.
I keep hearing from people opposed to bikes that they are opposed to bikes because we are bunch of trail hogging menaces. I think the example of the horsemen shows that all groups have their asshole elements, but the answer isn't in blanket bans but rather policies and education that encourage sustainable use. If the horsemen in the 70s could find a way to manage piles of garbage and human excrement, we should be able to manage the much smaller environmental impact of sharing trails with bikes today.
"Perhaps the least known of all this grand group of reserves is the Bitter Root, of more than four million acres. It is the wildest, shaggiest block of forest wildness in the Rocky Mountains, full of happy, healthy,storm-loving trees, full of streams that dance and sing in glorious array, and full of Nature's animals, - elk, deer, wild sheep, bears, cats, and innumerable smaller people."
Did you know that John Muir had left the Sierras and visited Montana. I hadn't, but apparently he did, and what did he recommend?
"Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God's wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted"
For some of us a summer was not nearly enough. A year was not enough. A lifetime may not be enough. It was here we were reminded of what he meant when he said, "The mountains are calling and I must go."
Reading Muir, I have a hard time believing that encountering a mountain bike would ruin his wilderness experience or that he would be offended by someone enjoying the outdoors in a way different from him. His desire was to show people nature and to get them to love it with the same passion he did."Fresh beauty opens one's eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing, therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return to common everyday beauty. "
He wanted people to venture beyond the safety and comforts of resorts, to not experience nature through a plane of glass, "Most travelers here are content with they can see from car windows or the verandas of hotels, and in going from place to place cling to their precious trains and stages like wrecked sailor to rafts."
Ever here someone say, "nature is my church, " or "the woods are my temple?" Sometimes I think people take this too literally. I once engaged a fierce anti-bike wilderness advocate who said, "You wouldn't ride a bike through the Sistine Chapel, why do think you should be able to ride your bike through my church?" Well, first off I've done a lot of things in the wilderness that I wouldn't do at the Vatican including digging cat holes, skinny dipping, climbing pillars, making love. There is do doubt that Muir saw the divine in nature, and if he believed it to be a church I imagine it wouldn't be the whispering and tip toeing propriety of a Prairie Home Companion Lutheran Church, but rather an acoustic version of James Brown's church in the Blues Brothers, and when he saw the light he would be doing back flips down the aisle. Why do I think that? Because along with being a church the forest and the mountains were also a library and a classroom where he learned this lesson, "Surely all God's people, however serious or savage, great or small, like to play. Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small mischievous microbes - all are warm with divine radium and must have lots of fun in them."
Finally I can't help that think that John Mir would are a mountain biker, if only because is understands the importance of flow, "Everything is flowing -- going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks... While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood...in Nature's warm heart."
All photos from Blodgett Canyon, One of the trails being closed by the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan, and probably one of the more popular trails in the forest being only 5 miles from town. As you can see from the scarcity of tracks, popularity is relative and the place remains as wild as when Muir was alive.
Time for some more letter writing. The folks at the Montana Bicycle Guild have done a bang up job of evaluating the wilderness inventory for the Helena and Lewis & Clark Forest Plan revision.
Yes, I'm a mountain biker and in my role as president of the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists I advocate for issues important to mountain bikers such as trail access. For this I have been castigated as being a hardliner according to a recent blog post over at Montana Wilderness Association. Let me first say how much appreciate the work the MWA does protecting Montana's special places and working with the Montana High Divide to improve recreational opportunities for all quiet users. We also value our collaboration with partners such as the Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen and the Bitterroot Cross Country Club. Even as I write this we are working with the MWA to find areas of common interest. Where we diverge is in how we visualize the role of mountain bikes in wild places. We believe that with appropriate management based on local conditions and following the guidelines established the Forest Service Publication, Wilderness Management, mountain bikes can be ridden in wilderness without sacrificing the feeling of the untrammeled wild and without interfering with other users desire for solitude and quiet. For more on the basis of our understanding of wilderness see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. For more on the legislative history of the Wilderness Act and our understanding of the interpretation of "mechanized transport" you can go here.
As much as we respect the MWA we take issue with several statements made by Mr. Gatchell in his blog post.
"As with snowmobiles and four-wheelers, new technology has allowed bicyclists to penetrate deeper into wildlands than ever before and on trails that were designed primarily for traveling by foot and horseback." I'll allow that this this is technical true, but first why are mountain bikes being equated with snowmobiles and ATVs. Yes, bikes have improved over the years, yet unlike motorized users, the motor is the same; a person pedaling a bike. Being human powered, the improvements and ease of travel have been incremental comparable to other human powered activities such as skiers, hikers and pack rafters. This doesn't compare to the transformative effect more powerful engines have had on snowmobiles and ATVs. As far as trails being designed for foot and horseback, most of the trails we ride haven't been designed at all, but rather evolved from game trails, hunting trails and few are up to modern standards. As numerous studies have shown that hikers and bikers have similar impact on trails, and less than a horse; a poorly built trail will be susceptible to erosion regardless of the type of user, and points to the need for the type of trail stewardship mountain bikers excel at to make trails sustainable and thus minimize ecological impact.
"A hardline segment of the mountain biking community now believe their entitled to continue riding or begin riding on these trails, even though they’re located in areas that have already been recommended by the Forest Service as wilderness." While the Forest Service has recommended these trails as wilderness, it should be made clear that these areas are not designated wilderness areas. As recommended wilderness the forest service is obliged to maintain their wilderness character; that does not mean managing the areas as wilderness. Forest fires will be fought. Chainsaws can be used for trail work. Game carts can used for hunting. I'm not sure "entitled" is the right word. After riding and maintaining trails for decades we feel a deep attachment to these trails. Mr. Gatchall mentions the joy he gets on after work rides on Helena's world-class trails. Here in the Bitterroot we may not have the same caliber or trails, but we do have rooty rocky trails that we head to after work for rejuvenation. Trails that we have never seen some hiking on. Never seen a horse on. Trails that are now being closed as part of the travel plan. I don't think it is entitled to expect that if these trails are to closed that the Forest Service point to some tangible impact we are having, maybe degrading the trails, disturbing wildlife, even user conflicts. Can the Forest Service point to any impacts in the Travel Plan? No. The best they can do is opine that some people don't like the idea of bikes on backcountry trails. Instead the trails are being closed in order to influence the political process, " ..allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress." As a result the closure hundreds of miles of trails across Montana appears to be arbitrary and capricious, and subsequently all we are asking is for the Forest Service follow NEPA guideline and their own rules. We believe that performed properly, an analysis of mountain bike impact could find strategies using a minimum of regulation rather than the blunt instrument of categorical exclusions to maintain wilderness character.
"A few months ago, some of these hardline mountain bikers, led by a group in California, formed Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) to oppose all wilderness and wilderness study areas where they cannot ride." I'm sure the STC is capable of making their own response, but I'll point out that this misrepresents their goals. Rather their objective is to allow local land managers the leeway to allow mountain bikes on some wilderness trails. They would do this by returning the definition of "mechanized transport" to its original definition which required a non living power source for something to be considered "mechanized."
"Like the Snowmobile Alliance for Western States (SAWS), STC aggressively advocates for a single-interest recreation identity that tends to focus on an individual experience over other outdoor interests and conservation needs." Giving land managers the option to manage mountain bikes similar to other quiet users in wilderness areas hardly gives mountain bikers an experience over other interests. Rather it enables managers to find a balance between all users using an understanding of local conditions and using a minimum of regulation rather than overly restrictive blanket bans.
"Asking people to experience the gift of wild places on nature’s terms and at nature’s pace so that we don’t erode the wildness of these places has always presented challenges." I'll admit I'm not quite sure what nature's pace is. Usually statement like this imply that the only to enjoy wilderness is a slow and contemplative approach. But nature happens over many time scales from the centimeters a century for geologic time, inches a weeks for bear grass to grow, or close to highway speeds for a pronghorn. This expectation that there is only one way and one speed to enjoy the wild concerns me. Was Scott Jurek going to fast when he ran the Appalachian Trail? After all he wasn't self sufficient and relied a support crew. How about the speed record for running the 277 miles of the Grand Canyon being broken twice in three days earlier this year. These certainly aren't the ways I would want to experience either of these places, but does that give me the right to judge. They are having a different experience from mine. If someone on a speed run passed me while I did a three week float, should it somehow invalidate my adventure? I would hope not. By restricting the gift of wild places to a small window of possibility we are restricting ourselves only a small part of what we can discover. In many of the wild places I have seen them covered in snow laughing as I was plastered with face shots. I have climbed the walls climbing out of the valleys. I've hiked the trails and spent nights alone listening to fish breaking the surface, and I have ridden and carried my bike up trails and returned back down learning a new appreciation for rocks and well built switchbacks. Each time I learn something new.
"... wilderness advocates and mountain bikers do not need to be at odds. Montana is a big state, and we can expand mountain biking, restore quiet trails, and still have places where we can experience the untrammeled wild." I concur.. By engaging each other, I'm sure we will learn we have far in common than divides us in our loves for wild spaces and the last best place. While we may not agree on the this issue, I hope we can come accept that this is an issue that well intentioned people can valid differences of opinion. See you on the trail, hopefully with a pulsaki and shovel.
Our friends over in Helena at the Montana Bicycle Guild need your help. We have until Friday to get comments into the Forest Service regarding the Forest Plan.
Helena is one of the Montana mountain biking success stories. This fall they were designated an IMBA Silver Level Ride Center.
Let's help them keep the momentum going.
The Montana Bicycle Guild is trying to make it as easy as possible for people to submit comments on the Forest Service's draft desired conditions document, which is an important part of the Forest Plan revision process. This should only take a couple minutes, so please take the time to submit your comments!! Since the existing Forest Plan was adopted 30 years ago in 1986, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to impact our Forest Plan, how its managed, and the trails we ride! The more people that submit comments, the more of an impact we'll have for the future of mountain biking here in Montana. Also, I encourage everyone to forward this to anyone that may want to provide comments, but are either unaware of this or they aren't on our email contact list (and even if someone's already on our email list, it doesn't hurt to forward it to them as a reminder). Important: All comments are due by 5 p.m., next Friday, January 15, 2016!!
Wilderness Management by Hendee, Stankey, and Lucas is a wonderful book written in 1978 outlining the concepts the would shape the USFS management wilderness. The ideas laid out back still resonate today. I can't address the whole book, but it did help me understand some of the core issues related to wilderness early in its evolution, outlined how wilderness cannot be treated separately from the the surrounding forest, and clarified some of the crucial wilderness themes from an administrative perspective.
Interestingly, one suggestion they had reflects what I have been attempting to do over the last several posts.
"Once wilderness allocation decisions have been made, the extent to which the values espoused by early philosophers like Muir, Marshall, and Leopold are realized will depend on wilderness management. It is essential that mangers, educators, and citizens be guided in their efforts by a personal philosophy of wilderness that recognizes the basic values set forth by these early philosophers."
In case you missed the previous posts. Here they are.
Aldo Leopold part 1
Aldo Leopold part 2
The Problem of Wilderness - Robert Marshall
History of the Wheel
When reading the backstory on wilderness"... three consistent wilderness themes - experiential, mental and moral restoration, and scientific..." were seen in all the authors.
I'll spare you the whole review. As far as the experiential, I have covered that previously with Leopold and Marshall. Mental and moral restoration is commonly referred to today as our "nature deficit disorder." The latest issue of National Geographic addresses that. I haven't reviewed the scientific themes: watersheds, biodiversity, migration corridors, learning a ecological perspective; but in reviewing the literature it appears that hikers and cyclists have comparable impact.
As far as I recall the word mechanized only appears once, and as a synonym for motorized, "Mechanized use, with some minor exceptions (aircraft use where previously established, motor boats in the boundary Waters Canoe Area), is not permitted. But within the range of users permitted by the act, there is considerable diversity with regard to the styles of use and the accompanying facilities and developments."
When discussing the threats to wilderness and the nonconforming uses that were being suggested all were either motorized or infrastructure related, "Among the inappropriate alterations and uses currently suggested for many wildernesses are snowmobiling; trail biking; downhill skiing (personal aside, ski lifts would be an example of the type of mechanical transport the act was concerned with); chalets; overnight shelters; comfort stations; and retreats for teaching..." To make sure that trail biking referred to motorized dirt bikes I referenced another article by the lead author, Wilderness Users In the Pacific Northwest. In that same article other concerns included whether wilderness campsites should have have built in fire rings and picnic tables, whether wilderness ranges should be responsible for cleaning campsites, should helicopters be allowed, and concerns that many users believed burying solid trash was acceptable.
"But as we will see later, the Wilderness Act and wilderness philosophy makes clear that wilderness is for the use and enjoyment of people."
Wilderness Areas cannot be seen in isolation from the surrounding land. To manage wilderness successfully, you need to assess the uses in the surrounding forest.
"To preserve wilderness naturalness and solitude requires that demands inconsistent with the area's wilderness character be met elsewhere. Wilderness use is thus interrelated with all other land uses. Many activities and demands are easily diverted to wilderness because there are insufficient opportunities for them on other lands."
"In conclusion although wilderness is a discrete part of the environmental spectrum, it is nevertheless linked to other lands. To the extent that these released lands are lacking, the displaced uses may be diverted to classified wilderness where they may result in excessive or inappropriate demands. An expanded range of opportunities for roadless recreation would thus help insure the preservation goals established for the NWPS and help meet the public's diverse tastes and needs. The ultimate quality of the NWPS will depend in part on the provision of alternative (non wilderness) opportunities for activities that do not require the degree of naturalness and solitude provided in classified wilderness."
"We believe that providing a full spectrum of natural environments is a desirable and necessary goal to respond to the broad range of tastes and preferences in our society... Included are urban recreation areas, rural countryside, highly developed campgrounds, intensively managed multiple-use forests, National Parks, recreation and scenic areas, roadless wild lands and wilderness."
Reiterated through the book is the need for a spectrum of wild backcountry style lands, especially if you want to restrict wilderness use to only a few activities. Unfortunately in most places their advice to build concentric rings of use similar to how the Rattlesnake Recreation Areas surrounds the core wilderness has not been followed, "One commonly suggested possibility is creating a buffer zone - a band of land around the periphery of wilderness that would absorb impacts and help avert conflicts." Even if the philosophy history of wilderness doesn't clearly exclude bikes, and the original interpretation of mechanized transport didn't exclude bikes, it is still clear that there the issue is contentious, with some wilderness purists strongly opposed.
"This restriction on permitted recreational and management activity means, then, that wilderness cannot supply the full range of primitive opportunities sought by visitors....And, rather than attempting to provide many different kinds of opportunities under the heading of wilderness, it seems more appropriate to us to have a broadened range of land-use designations at the roadless end of the spectrum."
Here in the Bitterroot, the WSAs and RWAs acted unofficially as those other land-use designations, but as the Travel Plan is converting these areas into de facto wilderness, there is no longer a spectrum of roadless acres to accommodate a variety of different uses. Instead the forest is being managed in a binary fashion with nearly 2/3 of the forest being managed as wilderness and de facto wilderness and the remaining 1/3 for logging, motorized use, and everything else. The result is that contrary to the above recommendations, the only local option for primitive opportunities including mountain biking is designated wilderness and the now de facto wilderness, and as a result the full range of opportunities should be managed under the umbrella of wilderness.
Before I get into some thoughts on how bikes could and should be managed, I'm going to digress for a moment and share some quotes from another source, Use Patterns and Visitor Characteristics, attitudes and Preferences in Nine Wilderness and Other Roadless Areas. One reason I'm including this is that one of the areas discussed is the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and in many ways the description from 1980 hasn't changed significantly.
"Some accessible Selway-Bitterroot fringe areas are heavily used by people making short trips. These fringe areas have a number of attractive high lakes and are used much like the smaller areas, but, of course, they are a part of the total large Wilderness."
"Second, the abundance of short trips and of 1-day trips in particular implies, I think, a need for more opportunities for hiking, especially, outside of wilderness. There is also a need for other trail-based recreation opportunities outside wilderness, such as horseback riding. Much of this sort of experience could be provided elsewhere, at high levels of quality and visitor satisfaction."
Living as I do in the Bitterroot I was struck by the disconnect in their analysis. The assumption being that if there were simply more trails people would hike elsewhere. Yet there are numerous trails outside the wilderness that people simply don't hike, and it was these trails that we tended to ride. The other possible answer to their analysis, one that wasn't considered was; once you designate an area as wilderness and it includes nearly every alpine lake and the most aesthetically pleasing landscapes, don't be surprised if that is where people want to hike, ride horses, and mountain bike, even if other trails are available.
"The real question is not to manage or not to manage but rather how to manage." So if there are no other places to go to experience primitive recreation opportunities, mountain bike access needs to be managed not simply banned.
"The diversity of motives and convictions among individuals and groups supporting the wilderness movement has been instrumental to it's success."
"The human values and benefits of wilderness are set forth as a management principle because it is so easy to forget that wilderness is not set aside for the sake of its flora and fauna, but for people."
"This perspective rests on the idea that because wilderness is prized as the antithesis of urbanization and civilization, compromising its naturalness will ultimately decrease it value to man."
"Thus wilderness management is basically concerned with management of human use and influence to preserve natural processes."
"The capacity or ability of wilderness to absorb the impacts of use and retain its wilderness qualities is limited."
Once the premise that bikes can be an acceptable wilderness use, we need to figure how to manage uses and still maintain the primitive experience we are after. The answer isn't blanket bans, but rather using the minimum amount of regulation to achieve goals, and focusing these regulations on specific sites.
"This principle calls for selective restriction - use restrictions should focus on specific impacts of use on the wilderness environment and the wilderness experience of other visitors. It calls for a site specific orientation rather than an across-the-board approach that would impose restrictions everywhere in a wilderness to solve problems that be only local or temporary in nature."
"Discrimination against certain types of use ... is based on their respective impacts on the wilderness environment."
"The principle of minimum regulation calls for only that level of control necessary to achieve a specific objective."
One concept that I hadn't thought before, is the idea that an activity may or may not be wilderness appropriate depending on the style. Once you think about, it really isn't that shocking. Red Bull Rampage or Crankworks are probably not appropriate in wilderness. Machine built flow trails and jump lines probably not; but what about bike packing or hunting? Is hauling out an elk by bike all that different that on a pack horse? Whether the pack is on your back or on your frame, aren't the goals solitude, adventure, exploration the same? Clearly these style of mountain biking are wilderness dependent.
"Defining an activity as wilderness-dependent can be difficult. If then an activity itself is not dependent ,but the particular style or form in which it is pursued might be. For example...fishing can be pursued in a variety of settings, certain styles of fishing might be dependent upon wilderness for their enjoyment. Fishermen who desire remote, difficult-to-reach lakes where one can fish under natural conditions without meeting many other people must rely on wilderness for such opportunities."
"Thus favoring wilderness -dependent activities might call for reducing or discouraging - rather than eliminating - certain forms of some activities... The key to favoring wilderness-dependent activities in classified wilderness is the availability of alternative non-wilderness lands to which inappropriate activity can be diverted."
In summary, as more roadless backcountry primitive lands that have a history mountain bike use fall under the auspices of the wilderness preservation system, the broad range of backcountry areas recommended in the book will no longer exist. The consequence is that wilderness areas will inevitably need to support the full spectrum of backcountry uses, some of which like bikes are currently excluded. As mountain bikers we need to accept that there is and will continue to be opposition. The key is to incorporate established wilderness management protocols into our plans and advocacy. Trails need to stay primitive.If a trail is popular with backpackers, maybe that is a trail that should have restrictions. In many Wilderness areas, 20 -30 % of trails get the vast majority of the use. We need to disperse our use to less popular minimally used trails.
Wilderness in a Balanced Land Use Framework
Senator Frank Church, 1977
"... it was not the intent of Congress that wilderness be administered in so pure a fashion as to needlessly restrict their customary public use and enjoyment. Quite to the contrary, Congress fully intended that wilderness should be managed to allow its use by a wide spectrum of Americans ... The Wilderness Act was not deliberately contrived to hamstring reasonable and necessary management activities ... restrictions on use may sometimes be needed to protect especially fragile locations. But in adopting regulations, common sense is required.
In summary if purity is to be an issue in the management of wilderness, let it focus on preserving the natural integrity of the wilderness environment- and not needless restriction of facilities necessary to protect the area while providing for human use and enjoyment."