Oppose this bill allowing mountain bikes in our wildness: Edward Zahniser
By PennLive Op-Ed
on January 03, 2017 at 12:00 PM, updated January 03, 2017 at 4:27 PM
By Edward Zahniser

My father, Howard Zahniser, the primary author of the 1964 Wilderness Act, considered Tionesta, Pennsylvania his hometown. Zahnie, as my father was known, was not at the wilderness bill's signing, however.
He died on May 5, 1964.


My mother Alice Zahniser stood for him at the White House signing on Sept. 3, 1964. President Lyndon Johnson gave my mother a pen he used.


Two separate, but related, threats now confront designated wilderness areas. One threatens wilderness on the national scale, the other threatens wilderness in Pennsylvania.


The Wilderness Act preserves wilderness on America's federal public lands by law, not by administrative decision.


That was the "more permanent protection" that The Wilderness Society sought from 1947 forward. The Wilderness Act places a protective overlay to parts of national parks and forests, fish and wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management lands.


The crux of wilderness character and of the Wilderness Act itself lies in the use of the word "untrammeled" in defining wilderness, and its caveat that we must not project our human desires onto designated wilderness.
The clear language of the 1964 Wilderness Act itself prohibits mountain bikes, as a form of "mechanical transport."

Untrammeled says, as Howard Zahniser wrote, that with wilderness we should be guardians, not gardeners.


Untrammeled says that the so-called management goal for wilderness is to leave it unmanaged. Untrammeled is a hard teaching for scientists and natural resource managers.


The Wilderness Act was framed as an antidote to that human propensity to trammel the land.


The Wilderness Act is meant to protect the wilderness character of a fragment of our federal public lands' legacy as untrammeled - wild, self-organizing, autonomous. To protect wilderness character is to protect these qualities of wildness.


A new bill in the U.S. Congress, would radically alter this primary intent of the Wilderness Act by directing the U.S. Forest Service, which administers wilderness areas, to identify trails to be opened for mountain biking.
Local rangers would have just two years to identify trails that might be opened to bikes. That is an impossible task if the public is to be heard in the usual open process. If the deadline is not met, the trail will simply be opened to bikes.


The clear language of the 1964 Wilderness Act itself prohibits mountain bikes, as a form of "mechanical transport."


Benton MacKaye was a founder and president of The Wilderness Society. He hired my father in 1945, whose task became to develop the wilderness preservation legislation first introduced in Congress in 1956.
In 1921 MacKaye proposed an Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia -- as a wilderness belt and a footpath.


MacKaye emphatically said "no" to bicycles, declaring the Appalachian Trail a "wilderness footpath." Renowned ecologist Aldo Leopold was also influential in Wilderness Society thinking.


He championed outdoor recreation's "contrast value," the degree to which outdoor recreation contrasts with daily life.


This also helps explain Congress' prohibition of bicycles and other mechanical transport in wilderness.


Certainly we need more of the contrast value of wilderness recreation than the non-contrast value of bicycling. Congress should reject the legislation.


At more than 9,000 wild and untrammeled acres, Tracy Ridge is the largest inventoried roadless area in the Allegheny National Forest - Pennsylvania's only national forest.


Tracy Ridge has had the strong backing of local citizen groups, such as the Sierra Club during the 1970s, and more recently the Warren-based Friends of Allegheny Wilderness (www.pawild.org), which serves as the local conduit for my father's vision to be advocated in Pennsylvania.


Eminently qualifying for wilderness protection under the Wilderness Act, Tracy Ridge should have been designated as wilderness as early as 1975.


But now it is being threatened by an unnecessary mountain biking proposal. The proposal would expropriate its cherished backcountry hiking trails and complicate its opportunity to be protected.
David Smith took both of his hands off the handlebars to make the obscene gesture while jamming up traffic on Route 30.


A local forest management decision based on a single mechanized use -- mountain biking -- should not be allowed to moot a future decision by Congress to designate such a significant national wilderness area.
Instead of amending their long-term management plan to allow mountain biking at Tracy Ridge, Allegheny National Forest should amend their plan to make this rare Keystone State wildland as a "Wilderness Study Area."


Congress should then pass a law to add the entire Tracy Ridge area to America's National Wilderness Preservation System.


The call of wilderness and wildness is not to escape the world but to encounter the world's essence.


Wilderness calls us to renewed kinship with all of life. We will extend ethical regard to the more-than-human world only as we feel ourselves as part of the whole community of life on Earth.


Some bicyclists got fully into the spirit with silly underwear, while others were there mainly for the companionship of other riders.


By securing a national policy of restraint and humility toward the wilderness character that is its wildness, the Wilderness Act nudges us toward enlarging the boundaries of our ethical community.


In preserving wilderness, Zahnie believed, we take some of the precious ecological heritage that has come down to us from the eternity of the past, and we have the boldness to project it into the eternity of the future.
Mountain biking must be established only on lands other than designated wilderness or other than eminently qualified prospective wilderness such as Tracy Ridge.


Edward Zahniser, an environmental activist, writes from Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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