The following is not intended to convince you that bikes should or should not be allowed in Wilderness. We’ve already had plenty of discourse around that topic, and should you feel the need to make your opinion heard on the subject, there are many open threads in which you can do so. Instead, this is for supporters of bikes in Wilderness, who are on the fence about the recently proposed bill by the Sustainable Trails Coalition.
If you’ve followed the site at all, you know we support bike access in select Wilderness areas as well as have been a vocal advocate and financial supporter of STC. However, when we first saw the news of STC’s bill, which is being introduced by none other than Utah’s own senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, our stomach’s turned a little, OK – a lot. Our first thoughts were, more or less, that STC had made a deal with the devil, and with our help no less.
We’ll do our best to leave personal politics aside, but suffice to say, Lee/Hatch represent everything we are not, and their collective records when it comes to environmental concerns and public lands initiatives are absolutely deplorable. Furthermore, with the public lands heist currently being pursued by the Utah legislature, there seemed even more reason to believe that there was something more up these senator’s sleeves, and that this was not simply an access issue, but posturing for a much larger play, using the mountain bike community as pawns and this bill as a trojan horse in their efforts to sell off public lands for resource extraction.
Because of this, we have yet to take a stance for or against the bill. As much as we’d like to see bikes in Wilderness, we’d hate to see personal interests interfere with the greater good. However, after much reflection, as well as correspondence with STC board members, I believe the bill to be a positive step forward for all.
In Support of the Human Powered Travel Act
Partisan Politics Does Not Work
Had the bill been introduced by nearly anybody other than Lee/Hatch, it’s safe to say it would have been much more well received. Furthermore, there are pro-bike in Wilderness advocates opposing the bill simply because of Lee/Hatch. To be fair, this was our knee jerk reaction to the bill as well. Yet this is exactly the kind of partisan politics that we criticize time and again, and to behave ourselves in such a manner is hypocritical. You can’t criticize the GOP for building their identity as simply the “anti-Obama” party opposing everything he proposes or threatening to shut down the government in protest, while not supporting this bill simply on merit of who introduced it. Partisan politics works (or rather doesn’t work) both ways.
The Bill Does Not Amend the Wilderness Act
Contrary to popular belief, this bill does not amend the original Wilderness Act, nor was the Wilderness Act amended in 1984. This bill simply addresses the US Forest Service regulation from ‘84, lobbied for by the Sierra Club (who continue to oppose such efforts based on their collective bias), that bans bikes from Wilderness areas. The original act is left untouched and intact, therefore no precedent is set for amending the Wilderness Act. This is a major sticking point for most opponents of the bill, but is purely conjecture.
The Bill Can Not Be Used for Exploitation
The bill is tight and focused with no room for exploitation. I’ve read through it a few times myself, as well as have been assured from STC that it can’t be used to sell off or exploit public lands. From STC’s attorneys in regards to the “other purposes” language:
“The way that the senate.gov site lists a bill before it’s paperwork is finalized is the phrase “and for other purposes” is appended, which could be interpreted in a bad way. However, the fact of the matter is that there are no possible ‘for other purposes’ embedded, implied or possible with the legislation that is being proposed … the bill is very tight, very focused, and cannot be exploited to sell Wilderness Areas for lumber or mining, or anything else.
Whether you support this bill or not, that is up to you. However, I do ask that you take the time to read through it and come to your own consensus without all the bias rhetoric and hyperbole. The bill, at nine pages, is about as concise and straightforward as these things come, and like it or not, is how our democracy works and policy is enacted from within the system. Simply sitting behind a computer furiously typing Facebook comments and *wishing* for it to be so with your thoughts and prayers certainly hasn’t got us there, nor will it anytime soon.