New bill could rescind mountain biking ban in U.S. wilderness areas

A bill that was introduced in Congress last week could rescind the blanket ban on mountain biking in federally controlled wilderness areas across the country.

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Last Thursday, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., introduced H.R. 1349 – “To amend the Wilderness Act to ensure that the use of bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts is not prohibited in Wilderness Areas, and for other purposes” – to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits mechanized travel within the more than 109 million acres of wilderness areas across the United States.

A summary of the bill has not yet been posted online, but its focus is a topic of hot debate between conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts.

wilderness areas biking
Proponents of the bill say removing the blanket ban will allow land managers the freedom to best decide how to run the wilderness areas. Photo: Courtesy of FGMSP/Pexels

Some opposed to the bill feel that opening up wilderness areas to mountain biking could lead to the degradation of many sensitive ecosystems across the country, and that conservation is more important than recreation.

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“Ultimately wilderness isn’t about us, it is about nature,” Brian Beffort, director of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I think nature needs to feel our impact less, not more … [The Wilderness Act] forces you to put nature first instead of our own entertainment and convenience.”

But those in favor of the bill say that, if passed, federal land managers in charge of the areas would still hold the authority to limit access.

wilderness areas biking
Opponents believe that biking could quickly destroy pristine environments. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Schweighofer/Pexels

Last Friday, the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) published a letter voicing their support for the bill.

“Congressman McClintock's bill will give mountain bikers long-overdue relief from agency misunderstandings,” STC board member Ted Stroll said in the statement.

“It's important to understand that reversing the ban is not an open permit,” fellow board member Jackson Ratcliffe said. “Land management agencies already have the authority to regulate campsite locations, hunting, and where horses are allowed, or not. This legislation will simply return decision making back to local authorities.”

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, McClintock’s bill is similar to another bill that died during the last session of Congress.