Wilderness Watch is opposing Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rulemaking to open up our federal public lands to electric bikes, or e-bikes. This means that all trails open to bikes will now be open to motorized bikes, and although individual managers can close individual trails to e-bike use, most will be loathe to do so. These rulemaking efforts are being made to implement Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt’s Secretarial Order from August 2019 to do so.
E-bikes are bicycles turned into motorbikes. They use an electric motor, rather than a gas-powered one, to propel the bike forward. On some bikes, the electric motor provides an assist while peddling, on others the electric motor alone can power the bike. E-bike use has taken off in recent years, and new technologies are now being developed to manufacture e-bikes that can drive up to 55 mph.
For far too long conservationists have ignored the threat that mountain biking poses to wildlands, wildlife and Wilderness. Modern bikes employ technological advances in suspensions, materials, drivetrains, brakes, and even tires that allow mountain bikers to access backcountry areas that would have been unheard of a decade or two ago. Even today, many conservationists err in promoting mountain biking as a benign “human-powered” activity, even though the human power is enhanced with a great deal of high-tech machinery that allows even average riders to reach places unreachable not long ago. Electric-powered bikes—e-bikes—are becoming the norm and will greatly exacerbate the ecological and political problems created by mountain bikes.
Like all recreation, mountain bikes displace wildlife. Because they travel farther and faster than hikers or equestrians, then can impact a much greater area in the same amount of time. They also have a very asymmetrical impact on foot travelers, who are seeking a quiet, contemplative, non-motorized and non-mechanized experience and are disrupted by a machine racing by. But beyond these direct impacts to nature, a significant segment of the mountain biking community has become one of the most ardent opponents of wilderness designation and, more significantly, is pushing to open existing Wildernesses to bikes. That will presumably include e-bikes if they’re treated like non-motorized bikes on public lands.
The proposed rules have to potential to affect millions of acres of public land, and pose significant problems for wildlife, other trail users, and protected areas like Wilderness.
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Photo: Bureau of Land Management