Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mountain-bike agenda doesn’t fit with wilderness


    How ironic that in the year of the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary a proposal by wilderness advocates for a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument advances a strategy to make mechanized travel acceptable in wilderness areas.  
    The recently announced Boulder-White Clouds mountain bike agreement is a complete win for the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).  Whether the national monument proposal fails or prevails, the IMBA can tout an agreement with wilderness advocacy groups that embeds the organization’s long-term strategy to define mountain biking as an appropriate activity in designated wilderness areas.  Expect to see a lot of this agreement in the future.
    The agreement commits wilderness advocacy groups to seek designation of most trails in the White Cloud Mountains and some in the Boulder Mountains as “Human-Powered Backcountry Recreation Zones.”  These trail-wide “zones” would wind through “Wilderness Character Zones.”

Do wilderness advocates want a national monument so badly they’re willing to sell out the very thing they seek to protect?

    To be clear, the problem with the agreement isn’t that it spells out mountain bike trails.  If the agreement simply did that, I wouldn’t be writing this; I generally don’t take issue with bikes in the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains.
    The problem is the agreement’s embrace of the IMBA’s “human-powered” political strategy that looks well beyond this particular national monument proposal.  The IMBA’s goal is to equate mechanized mountain biking with walking.  Under the euphemistic umbrella of “human-powered” activity, mountain biking should be allowed wherever walking is allowed.
    The IMBA is clever in how it frames its argument.  You’ll note I didn’t say the IMBA is trying to get bikes into areas designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act.  On its website, the IMBA states it “respects the federal land agencies’ regulation that bicycles are not allowed in existing Wilderness.” A sleight-of-hand comes when the IMBA goes on to make an extensive case that mountain bikes belong in wilderness areas. Some examples from its website:

  •  “While most of us applaud the intentions of the Wilderness Act, we also believe that cross-country (XC) style mountain biking is an appropriate, quiet, muscle-powered activity that belongs in Wilderness alongside hiking and horseback riding.”
  •  “Yes, bicycling is a human-powered, low-impact, quiet form of travel compatible with wild places and the intent of the Wilderness Act.”
  •  Regarding the intent of the Wilderness Act, the IMBA cites an article that argues Congress didn’t intend to exclude mountain bikes under a provision that bans “mechanical transport” in designated wilderness areas.

    I would like to believe these claims.  It would make my life a lot easier with passionate mountain bikers I know. But then I think of times I’ve stood on open hillsides back in the mountains and watched as riders fly down thousands of feet of “single track.”
    Someone needs to explain how sitting atop a wheeled speeding machine and roaring down a trail qualifies as a “quiet, muscle-powered activity that belongs in Wilderness.”  
    There’s an Alice-in-Wonderland sense to the assertion that mountain biking and walking share the same DNA. It’s from a world where things are what they aren’t, as the IMBA seeks to normalize a distorted view of reality in pursuit of its agenda.    
    Meanwhile, wilderness advocates strike deals so user groups don’t oppose their ideas. For the IMBA, the mountain bike agreement is the type of strategic leap forward that political organizations dream of.  
    Surely there are more deals to come. The question is: Do wilderness advocates want a national monument so badly they’re willing to sell out the very thing they seek to protect?

     John Kelley is a Sun Valley resident and creator of, a website that analyzes the Boulder-White Clouds National Monument proposal.

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