OpEd by Steve Cozzetto, Lebec
HR1349 is a bill that is currently working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. It is sponsored by Tom McClintock (R-CA, District 4, between Fresno and Sacramento). It is co-sponsored by several other California representatives.
HR1349 would amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 and open our wilderness areas up to mountain bikers and other wheeled conveyances.
It is a deceptively simple bill that would be added to the end of the Wilderness Act. It states: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheel-chairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheel barrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”
However this language is misleading because wheelchairs are already allowed in the wilderness under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title V, Section 508(c) and the Forest Service Manual 2320.5.
This is a Trojan Horse bill that is being pushed by the Sustainable Trails Coalition, a splinter mountain bike advocacy group.
Under the disingenuous guise of allowing the opening of the wilderness areas to wheelchairs so that those with disabilities may enjoy the backcountry, they want the right to take mountain bikes into areas protected by the National Wilderness Preservation System of the United States.
Only about 3% of the USDA Forest lands are designated as wilderness areas, which means that mountain bikes already have access to about 97% of U.S. Forest lands.
The Back Country Horsemen of California, Kern Sierra Unit, has documented many cases in which mountain bike riders have caused injury or death to hikers, equestrians or to their horses. These tragedies occur because of high speeds combined with the stealthy approach of mountain bikes on shared trails.
As most of these incidents currently occur in the front country or urban interface areas, help is often a cell phone call away. But if they occur in remote wilderness areas, medical assistance could be days away.
Mountain biker YouTube, websites, blogs and videos brag about the speed and daredevil thrills to be found on public land trails. In the areas where mountain bikers are allowed to ride (outside of the wilderness areas), the destruction of the trails is often shocking. Our own McGill Trail on Mount Piños is a case in point.
The destruction has been documented in photographs. It has become a playground park for mountain bikers who are continuing to damage the trail in a search for stunts and jumps.
The reckless conduct of mountain bike riders is unacceptable. Once a mountain biker describes a trail online as “epic,” other user groups such as hikers and equestrians can kiss it goodbye. Meanwhile, the federal budget for trail maintenance is diminishing. This is happening at the same time that the backlog of trail maintenance is increasing due to daredevil stunts.
The best solution would be to restrict mountain bikers to designated forestry roads and OHV trails, such as those used by motorcyclists, quads and other off-road vehicles.
I urge everyone who is concerned about safety, trail preservation and loss of the wilderness characteristics to contact their representative to vote “No” on HR1349.
Cozzetto is a member of the Back Country Horsemen of California, Kern Sierra Unit. He is on the Public Lands Committee.