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HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 10:13 am
by PAwildernessadvocate
The reason was most concisely expressed by the bill’s principal author, [Tionesta, Pennsylvania native] Howard Zahniser, who in 1956 defined wilderness as a place where we stand without the ‘mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.’

Zahniser was a Thoreauvian pacifist deeply troubled by the Holocaust and other horrific events during his lifetime. In wilderness, he saw a suite of biophysical and social values that carried the potential to make us better people. But to fulfill its promise in modern times, by offering an opportunity for raw challenge, humility and solitude, wilderness had to remain a place of human restraint. For eight years, Zahniser worked with Congress to ensure that the law enshrined that ideal, with clear limits on acceptable activities in wilderness
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https://www.hcn.org/articles/stop-tryin ... -to-happen

High Country News
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen. It’s not going to happen.

By Tim Lydon

I shouldn’t be writing this, and you shouldn’t be reading it. Far more pressing issues face our public lands. But a vocal minority is drudging up the long-resolved question of mountain biking in wilderness. They have even drafted a bill for somebody to introduce in Congress — the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act — that would open wilderness to biking. That means we have to pause and rehash the facts.

First, no legal argument supports biking in wilderness. Unambiguously, the 1964 Wilderness Act states there shall be no “form of mechanical transport” in wilderness areas. The discussion should end there, but a few claim that “mechanical transport” somehow does not include bicycles. They allege that the law unintentionally excluded an activity that emerged after it was enacted. Or they tout an early Forest Service misinterpretation of the law, which initially allowed bicycles in wilderness but was corrected over 30 years ago.

The arguments have no legal merit. Worse, they ignore the historical context and foresight of the Wilderness Act, one of our foundational environmental laws. In doing so, they distract people from truly understanding our public lands. That’s not good for people or the land.

We should remember that the Wilderness Act grew from a half-century of public-lands battles, fought by America’s most influential conservation thinkers, including Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Olaus Murie, and the indefatigable Mardy Murie, among others. Theirs was a multigenerational struggle to safeguard a vestige of the nation’s public lands from the advances of population and technology.

The technology part is important. The framers of the Wilderness Act knew human ingenuity was not somehow petering out in 1964. In fact, they lived in an era of fantastic invention. Forms of transport being tested at the time included jetpacks, gliders, aerocycles, and various new wagons, boats and bicycles.

That the law anticipated future invention is indisputable, but it benefits us much more to know why it does. The reason was most concisely expressed by the bill’s principal author, Howard Zahniser, who in 1956 defined wilderness as a place where we stand without the “mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.”

Zahniser was a Thoreauvian pacifist deeply troubled by the Holocaust and other horrific events during his lifetime. In wilderness, he saw a suite of biophysical and social values that carried the potential to make us better people. But to fulfill its promise in modern times, by offering an opportunity for raw challenge, humility and solitude, wilderness had to remain a place of human restraint. For eight years, Zahniser worked with Congress to ensure that the law enshrined that ideal, with clear limits on acceptable activities in wilderness.

Some pressing for bikes in wilderness conveniently ignore this central principle. Instead, they focus on issues of trail erosion or impacts to visitors and wildlife, where they front overly rosy claims. In diminishing the purpose of wilderness, they hawk a dumbed-down version of the public estate.

Similarly, it is unhealthy to conflate the ban on bikes with a ban on a certain group of people. That tactic may stir emotion, but it undermines serious public-lands discourse. Nevertheless, some are using the trick, including Bike Magazine editor Vernon Felton, whose recent video casts bikes in wilderness as a civil rights issue. That’s an affront to anyone who has worked for voting rights, fair housing, protection against hate crimes or other actual civil rights.

Felton and others also oversimplify prohibitions on bikes in wilderness study areas, calling them overreach by conservationists or the feds. But such bans are essential to the purpose of these study areas, which must be carefully managed to preserve their eligibility as wilderness pending congressional action.

Another claim is that banning bikes turns people against wilderness, or even broader conservation issues. But I think those misrepresenting the facts are the ones driving a wedge. Either way, diminished support for wilderness is not good news. But nor is it new. The historical trajectory toward better land stewardship has always been the fight of the few.

One last thing to consider is the issue’s scale. The wilderness system is limited to roughly 53 million acres outside Alaska. Smaller than Colorado, that portion is scattered across 43 states. And while most of the land is in the West, most of it is also rugged and unbikable. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of acres remain open to biking.

Still, some will demand that bikes be permitted in wilderness. And they will join logging, mining, off-roading, and other interests in whittling away at the boundaries of pending wilderness proposals. At a time when so many more serious issues confront our lands –– climate change, ocean acidification, plastics pollution, sprawl and much more –– it seems a misguided use of energy.

Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes from Girdwood, Alaska.



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Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 11:40 pm
by Don
I recommend this periodical (HCN-High Country News), and have myself subscribed for a number of years now. Excellent coverage of issues of import to folks living or playing in the Southwest.

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2016 7:41 am
by Joe
I've never seen a biker in a wilderness area since I've spent little time in such places. But, I recall once seeing several bikers going up and down the main trail to Mt. Harney in SD. They were young, healthy people who could easily have climbed on foot- rather than a laborious climb over the rocks. That's not a wilderness area- but it was disturbing to me to see the bikers.

Joe

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:11 am
by wisconsitom
This topic reminds me of the larger dichotomy-of which this is a part-between those of us who view wilderness as valuable for intrinsic reasons-this would be most of us here-and those who view such areas as places to challenge themselves in some physical capacity, be it base jumping, cliff climbing, or this biking thing. Unfortunately, it is the latter group who are burgeoning today. Those of us who actually value the solitude and uninterupted natural processes of such areas are beginning to become a sort of "older" cohort. I fear for what's going to become of such areas, with the new breed not having the same values that we do.

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2016 12:15 pm
by Joe
Luckily, those action sports guys don't often go way into wilderness areas- at least I hope they don't. A buddy of mine has been deep into many wilderness areas and hardly ever saw anybody. Even in national parks- once you get off the main tourist trails, you'll see few people.

It might be nice to simply enjoy local areas even if not wilderness- as Thoreau did. Nobody got a deeper insite into nature than he did- and he was just on the outskirts of town.
Joe

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2016 1:07 pm
by Erik Danielsen
I think an article I came across recently adds an angle of insight to this- http://environment.yale.edu/news/articl ... opulation/

Note that based on the study, "outdoor greens," only a portion of which is likely to be those who like mountain biking but agree that it is not appropriate for most wilderness areas (like myself), are outnumbered by "outdoor browns," who like outdoor recreation but are ideologically contrary to environmentalist values. Of course, many of those are probably more interested in opening up wilderness areas to ATVing than mountain biking, but the demographics of support for wilderness preservation aren't especially pretty.

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2016 1:17 pm
by wisconsitom
Right, and while the example I used was that of bona fide wilderness, the exact same dynamics are at play in any "wild" area. For a time, my younger son was enamored of owning a side by side UTV-really nice unit, and although we ended up mostly using it as a sort of mini pickup truck right on our land, we did venture out onto local trail networks of which the very area where we own that land is something of a hot spot for motorized rec. Well, those trails-and the woods through which they run-are just unbelievably beat up. Every other person you meet is a 12 yr. old with the need for speed. Spinning out on curves appears especially important. There're even videos of this on youtube. Look up "the pipeline" near Mountain, Wisconsin, to see what i'm talking about.

As far as our, or my own enjoyment of nature, it can and often is as local as can be. I'm not at all elitist when it comes to such matters. In fact, the mere reality that when I did buy land, it was in "the near north", which is to say, at least around here, one needn't drive half a day to get somewhere nice. Hell, I've got spots right here in town.

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Fri Mar 25, 2016 10:54 am
by PAwildernessadvocate
Friends of Allegheny Wilderness is proud to have joined with Wilderness Watch, and 115 additional wilderness organizations all across America, to ask the U.S. Congress to preserve the integrity of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and NOT fundamentally alter the Act by suddenly allowing bicycling in wilderness here now in 2016.

Bicycles, as a form of mechanical transport, became prohibited from designated wilderness areas the moment President Lyndon Johnson put pen to paper and signed the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964.

Section 4(c) states, "There shall be...no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport...within any such area."
A primary purpose of the Wilderness Act is to protect these special areas from "expanding settlement and growing mechanization…." (Wilderness Act, Section 2(a).)

Read our letter to Congress, and what you can do to help, by clicking below.

Thank you!

http://wildernesswatch.org/images/wild- ... -bikes.pdf

https://www.facebook.com/wildernesswatc ... 4249616934

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Fri Mar 25, 2016 7:29 pm
by Don
It wouldn't be out of character for me to explore the envelope, so I'll inquire of all of you as to where the line gets drawn:

About 10 years ago, another couple and my wife and I planned a four-day canoe trip on the Kenai Peninsula (in the National Moose Refuge) in southcentral Alaska, on the Swanson River Canoe Trail. They had a lightweight 17' kevlar 'laker', and we had a pristine 17 ' square stern Grumman aluminum canoe. I had taken the wheels off of a hand-drawn golf cart, mounted an axle to the stern and in the half dozen 'landed'' portages, simple turned the canoe over, and easily shouldered the bow seat (naturally curved for shoulders), while my wife managed the vests, oars. Then we returned for the camping gear and completed the portage.

Even though it was the Fourth of July weekend, we saw nobody but our own party after the first hour, until three days later, the last hour before 'wheeling' into the trailhead parking area upon our return. We were approached by a Moose Refuge employee who commented that the wheels were not permitted in a wilderness area.

My question? Are wheels per se, "motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport"? or otherwise inappropriate for wilderness traverses?

By the way, I highly recommend the Swanson River Canoe Trail...wonderful wildlife sightings, idyllic panoramas, solitude, and during our visit, no mosquitos.
-Don

Re: HCN: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen

Posted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 5:19 am
by Joe
Don, that's a good story about the oftentimes absurdity of "rules and regulations" when enforced by people with little common sense. If they took this wilderness thing to the limit, they'd say you can't go in there with a factory made canoe. You'd have to make it yourself out of birch bark, using stone tools. And you wouldn't be able to bring matches- like Survivor Man (a favorite show of mine).
Joe