Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas? A biker rides along a trail near Salt Lake City. More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off-limits to mountain bikers, but two Utah senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Utah Republicans, have introduced legislation that would allow bikers to join hikers and horseback riders in those scenic, undisturbed areas. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas?
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More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off limits to mountain bikers. Now two senators have introduced legislation that would allow bikers to join hikers and horseback riders in those scenic, undisturbed areas.
 
The proposal is controversial within the biking community. It's also opposed by conservationists, who say bikes would erode trails and upset the five-decade notion of wilderness as primitive spaces.
 
The bill comes from U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Republicans. It would give local officials with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other federal management agencies two years to decide in each wilderness area if bikes will be allowed. If no decision is made within two years, the bike ban would be lifted in that area.
 
The legislation comes from somewhat unlikely sponsors. Hatch and Lee represent Utah, where outdoor recreation and mountain biking are big business. But both are supporters of the Republican state's push to take over public lands controlled by the federal government. That is something environmentalists and outdoor recreation groups oppose.
 
Lee, a former mountain biker, said his bill takes on what he sees as another overreaching federal regulation that hamstrings locals. He says there's no evidence that mountain bike tires cause any more erosion than hikers do.
 
At issue is a part of the 1964 Wilderness Act. It restricts the use of "mechanical transport" - bikes, all-terrain vehicles and cars - in those 100-plus million wilderness acres in 44 states. It's the only blanket ban on bicycling in the federal public lands system.
 
The ban on "mechanical transport" doesn't include wheelchairs. They are allowed as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Lee notes that skis, rock climbing gear, kayaks, which are also allowed, "arguably involve some type of mechanical action" and help people move about.
 
Mountain biking wasn't a popular sport when the law was passed. But the bicycles will alter the character of those spaces and are tough on trails, said Alan Rowsome. He is with The Wilderness Society. It is a conservation group.
 
Rowsome said that only about 10 to 12 percent of all U.S. public lands are protected under the Wilderness Act. He called it one of "the bedrock environmental laws we have in this country" setting aside some areas as sacrosanct.
 
That includes tens of thousands of acres of forests, valleys, lakes and peaks around Lake Tahoe. "If mountain bikers could start riding those trails, they would be in Seventh Heaven," said Ted Stroll, president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition. It is a nonprofit that's working to overturn the ban.
 
Stroll said the wilderness ban on bikes leaves riders in Colorado on dirt forest roads from Crested Butte to Aspen. This is instead of more scenic single track trails. In North Dakota, he said, about 100 miles of one bike trail are bookended by wilderness zones. They leave bikers to make detours at both ends to avoid the protected areas.
 
The International Mountain Bicycling Association is still reviewing the bill. That is according to President Mike Van Abel. But the association's 40,000 mountain bikers are divided on the idea.
 
Some mountain bikers don't want to upset longstanding political alliances with conservation groups. The mountain bikers say bikers should instead focus on working with interest groups and lawmakers to negotiate and move the boundaries of wilderness areas to allow bikes on trails.
 
"Wilderness is the first time we as a species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man," said Ashley Korenblat, the owner of a bicycling tour company based in Moab, Utah. It is a mountain biking playground. "We don't need to ride our bikes everywhere."
 
Korenblat is a former chair of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. There are few trails in wilderness areas that would be fun to ride, Korenblat said. But "the last thing the bike industry wants to do is have a big fight with the environmental community."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How could bikers have more impact than hikers?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (8)
  • omccall-dav
    8/24/2016 - 06:41 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikers being allowed to ride in wilderness areas," I think the bikers should not be allowed to ride on the trails. One reason they should not be allowed to ride on the trails is bikers get to ride in so many different places that they should not get to ride in wilderness areas. Another reason bikers should not be allowed is ten to twelve percent of public land is protected and we only have so much land on this earth that we should protect as much as we can, animals need a home too. It say in the article "It's also opposed by conservationists,who say bikers would erode trails and upset the five-decade notion of wilderness primitive spaces." I agree with that statement because I think bikers would cause erosion over time riding over and over on the trail and the last thing we need is more erosion. Even though riding a bike in wilderness areas might be fun, I still think bikes should 0be ban from wilderness areas.

  • mcaitlin-dav
    8/24/2016 - 07:41 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikers be allowed in wilderness areas," I agree that bikers should not be allowed to bike on undisturbed land. One reason that I agree is mountain biking is popular in some areas and bikers will erode the land. Another reason is that, according to the article," We don't need to ride our bikes everywhere," and we don't have to.A third reason is bikes will disturb the five-decade notion of wilderness as undeveloped space. Even though it is fun to bike in the wilderness,I think biking would just destroy the land.

  • mtaylor-dav
    8/25/2016 - 05:27 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikers be allowed in wilderness ares," I agree that mountain bikes should be allowed in wilderness areas. One reason I agree is that skis, kayaks, wheelchairs, and more are allowed even tho some have little mechanical movement, like bikes do. Another reason is that some hiker gear could make more damage than mountain bikes. It says in the article "rock climbing gear, kayaks, which are also allowed, "arguably involve some type of mechanical action" and help people move about". That quote shows that bikes aren't the only thing with mechanical movement. A third reason is since bikers can't ride on the trail, they have to ride on the dirt paths in the woods. Even though I would also like to protect the wilderness, I think mountain bikes should be allowed on wilderness trails.
    _______________________.

  • okathryn-dav
    8/25/2016 - 08:53 p.m.

    In response to " Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas," I agree that mountain bikes should be allowed in wilderness areas. One reason that I agree is mountain bikes are faster than walking and many people will want a quicker way to get through the wilderness so they will take a bike instead of walking. Another reason is people will rent out a mountain bike to someone to ride on the trail and they will make money from renting it out, so if they ban mountain bikes then those people will stop making money. My last reason is that people think they should ban the bikes because they are eroding the land, but they don't have evidence that it is the bikes and not the hikers or horse back riders that are causing the erosion. Even though the mountain bikes might be causing the erosion, I think that the bikes causes more good than they do bad.

  • mcaitlin-dav
    8/25/2016 - 09:05 p.m.

    In response to " Should mountain bikers be allowed in wilderness areas," I agree that bikers shouldn't be allowed to bike on undisturbed land. One reason that I agree is the bikers would erode the land and in some areas mountain biking is popular. Another reason is that, according to the article, "Wilderness is the first time we as species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man," we can put the needs for nature instead of ourselves.A third reason is bikes would disturb the five-decade notion of wilderness as undeveloped spaces. Even though it is fun to bike in the wilderness, I think biking would just destroy the land.

  • llandon-dav
    9/08/2016 - 09:30 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas"? I disagree that bikers should be able to use wilderness areas. One reason I disagree is that the use of mechanical transport erodes the trails, causing the wilderness to be disturbed. Another reason is that destroying the environment affects the wilderness and the locals that use the trails to watch the beauty of the evoriment. It states in the article,"Wilderness is the first time we as a species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man". I can most defiantly see that this is supporting my second reason (erosion can destroy the evoriment). A third reason only 10%-12% of the land protected under the Wilderness Act. Even though riding bikes can be a lot if fun I think the benefits bikes not riding on protected trails outs weighs the amount of bikes in the evoriment.

  • hrico-dav
    11/03/2016 - 04:48 p.m.

    In response to "Should Mountain be allowed in the wilderness areas", I disagree that biker should be allowed in the wilderness because say you are biking and you get hurt and there is no signal in the woods and you can't call anyone for help. Another reason is if you are riding and run over a animals shelter you ruined their home. It says in the article that "More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off limits to mountain bikers." A fourth reason is that people are disturbing the animals that live in the places that the bikers bike in. Even though I think bikers shouldn't bike in the wilderness I can't stop them.

  • hmadison-dav
    12/08/2016 - 07:41 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas?" I agree that bikers should be allowed to bike in wilderness areas. One reason I agree is that bikers do not have enough places to bike because they aren't even supposed to bike on sidewalks and other places like that. Another reason is that according to the article "He says there's no evidence that mountain bike tires cause any more erosion than hikers do." So, there is no proof that bikers caused more erosion damage than other people like hikers. A third reason I agree is its more convenient to ride bike than to walk. Some peoples passions is to ride bikes on wilderness paths and if they take that away people won't have that anymore. Even though the environment is very important, I think bikers should be allowed to ride bikes in wilderness areas.

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