REPORTER MEMO: Citing legal violations, Wilderness Society asks Tahoe Forest to reverse decision to allow motorized bikes on non-motorized trails
On the heels of an ill-informed change in Interior Department policy last week that allows electric bicycles on non-motorized trails, several groups asked the Tahoe National Forest, in California, to reverse its decision to allow electric mountain bikes on non-motorized trails.
The groups delivering a letter the Tahoe National Forest today include The Wilderness Society, Gold Country Trails Council, Back Country Horsemen of America, Forest Issues Group, and Backcountry Horsemen of California, including its Mother Lode Unit.
The Tahoe National Forest recently permitted “Class 1” electric mountain bikes (E-MTBs) on over 130 miles of trails that had been reserved for hiking and other non-motorized uses. The Tahoe already has some 2,500 miles of trails and roads available for motorized uses.
In a letter to the Tahoe Forest Supervisor, the groups document how the Tahoe’s decision undermines “long-standing travel management laws and policies that help ensure higher quality recreation experiences for both motorized and non-motorized users, prevent avoidable resource damage, alleviate public safety concerns and conflicts between users….”
Prior to opening non-motorized trails to motorized E-MTB use, the letter states, the Tahoe should have followed the required travel management planning procedure, which is a public process that includes analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Sometimes called the Magna Carta of conservation law, NEPA requires environmental analysis and public participation in federal decisions that affect public lands.
“These abrupt changes under the Trump administration violate long-standing law and public trust,” said Alison Flint, Wilderness Society Litigation and Agency Policy Director. “We will not hesitate to fight this dangerous trend, which favors wider abuse and degradation of our remaining wild public lands while again tipping the scale to enrich an industry that’s pushing for the motorization of America’s public lands. While there are ample places for e-bikes on public lands, non-motorized trails are not one of them.”
Michael Reinemer, 202-429-3949, [email protected]
Alison Flint, 303-802-1404, [email protected]
Non-motorized trails ensure safety and conservation on public lands
Setting aside some trails for non-motorized use is vital for preserving safety and conservation on our national parks, national forests, and other public lands.
Americans treasure their freedom to enjoy public lands, including trails in places where people can enjoy recreation and wildlife in a quiet, motor-free setting.
While our shared public lands are open to all and offer a variety of recreation options, not all forms of recreation are suitable in all places. For instance, certain trails are reserved for non-motorized forms of recreation, to preserve the wild characteristics of the backcountry, protect wildlife and ensure safety for the trail users.
On August 29, national trail and conservation groups objected to a Department of the Interior order that would open non-motorized trails to all classes of motorized e-bikes, arguing that the order undermines agency management rules, fails to consider impacts to hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders and other recreationists, and may signal the beginning of the end of our tranquil backcountry trails.
This means that while some public lands are available for snowmobiles, e-bikes and other motorized vehicles, other places are not. Tried and true practices based on bipartisan laws and policies developed decades ago have served our shared lands well.
We have a responsibility to respect the different types of recreation and users on our public lands, since there are vast areas available for different uses.
Growing demands for all types of recreation has created pressure to open more lands to motorized recreation at the expense of non-motorized uses. This would be unfair. We can’t afford to motorize the nation’s remaining wild, quiet places. Until very recently, public lands have been open to motorized recreation by default. The agencies have worked hard to define the appropriate balance, informed by public input and environmental analysis. However, there is still an immense amount of public lands that are open to motorized uses, and so the pressure for more is unreasonable.
Redefining non-motorized trails as acceptable places for motorized recreation, including e-bikes, sets a bad precedent that could lead to further loss of the land’s natural features, which are essential to preserving the health of our forests and wildlife.
Today, our nation’s wild places face enormous losses to development and fragmentation of wildlife habitat. The added effects of the climate crisis and pollution threaten the very existence of millions of species and their habitat throughout the world, according to an assessment in the May 6, 2019 UN report authored by more than 100 experts and based on the review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources.
Our national forests, parks and other public lands provide millions of Americans with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink as well as places for recreation, renewal and wildlife. Bad transportation policy for our national forests could harm water and air quality, which is why The Wilderness Society cares about these issues.
Preserving trails reserved for quiet, non-motorized recreation may seem like a small matter, but it’s integral to the conservation of our nation’s few remaining truly wild, peaceful places.