We are experiencing unprecedented, multilateral attacks on our public lands heritage: from Trump’s dismantling of many of our national monuments, to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration. From politicians working to turn our public lands over to state and corporate control, to budget cuts for our public lands agencies resulting in a backlog of scientific research, land conservation, and trail and campground maintenance.
In addition, a bill has recently been introduced to Congress to weaken the Wilderness Act and open all wilderness areas to mountain bikes. That bill is HR 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, who has a lifetime rating of 4 percent from the League of Conservation Voters.
As an avid mountain biker, I strongly oppose any reduction in the protection of our wilderness areas and stand with many fellow mountain bikers, including the International Mountain Bike Association, who are against this idea.
Our amazing public lands offer a diversity of opportunities for every dimension of our economic, recreational and spiritual pursuits and are an irreplaceable part of our American heritage. These lands are managed along an environmental modification spectrum, from “paved to primeval” as Roderick Nash, a prominent wilderness scholar, describes it. The various protections, or lack thereof, given to each designation of public land are designed primarily around human needs and desires and with substantial public input. However, occasionally, we self-absorbed humans recognize the world doesn’t revolve around the sun only for us.
Along the wide spectrum of public lands protections, wilderness designation provides the highest level of preservation our laws offer and is reserved for areas that meet stringent criteria for scenery, seclusion, watershed and wildlife attributes. The fact that wilderness designation is so stringent is why it often takes decades of public argument and discussion to get an area designated with this highest of public lands protections.
The beauty of wilderness designation is that we have recognized our immense negative impact on the planet’s ecosystem and some space must be set aside to give natural processes and critters unfettered places to do their thing.
And that’s the point: Wilderness is not primarily about us, or our favorite recreational pursuit; it is about wilderness. It is one of the few laws where human desires are the last consideration but which also acknowledges the necessity for us to escape the all-surrounding mechanized, electrified, social-mediafied, anthropogentrified world we have created.
Wild country, accessible only by foot and hoof, can be as important for the human psyche as it is for the ecological security of critters from mountain goats to marmots, from whitebark pine to pikas.
Designated wilderness areas comprise less than 3 percent of our lands in the lower 48. Of the approximately 23,000 miles of trails in Idaho, less than 4,000 miles are within wilderness areas. We mountain bikers do not lack for amazing trails to ride. Let’s not allow a selfish, short-sighted desire to ride everywhere weaken the law that protects wilderness areas found hardly anywhere.
Bryan DuFosse has mountain biked since 1987. He is also a board member and volunteer for the Idaho Trails Association, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to maintaining nonmotorized trails inside wilderness and out.