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The testimony and Q&A from the STC’s historic congressional hearing have officially been released. While you can watch the entire hearing in the video above (which covers several different bills), here are the highlights.

The video embedded above shows Representative Tom McClintock’s opening statements regarding bill H.R. 1349, a bill that aims to remove the blanket ban on mountain bikes in Wilderness areas. Note that this is not the same as a blanket approval, either. To begin, I highly recommend listening to Rep. McClintock’s opening statements, as it provides an excellent overview of the issue at hand.

In part, McClintock says,

“A year after he signed the Wilderness Act in 1964, Lyndon Johnson said, ‘those forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle. For them [we need] trails so well as highways.’ Bicycles were allowed in Wilderness areas from the inception of the act in 1964 until 1977 when the Forest Service reinterpreted the act to ban them. This met with a stern rebuke from Senator Frank Church, one of the key sponsors of the Wilderness Act, who protested, “agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly, and misconstruing the intent of Congress, as to how these areas should be managed.'”

Upon finishing the opening statements concerning the bill, you can fast forward the video to the testimony from Sustainable Trails Coalition President, Ted Stroll, at 1:03:35. You can also find a complete copy of Stroll’s written testimony here, which is much more extensive and detailed than his oral testimony due to the nature of the hearing.

Other bills unrelated to mountain biking were also discussed in this hearing, so it’s best to skip around to find the key moments in the video. Other key points in the video above include:

  • Q&A McClintock: 1:16:38
  • Q&A Hanabusa: 1:22:00
  • Q&A Thompson: 1:30:40
  • Disagreement by Lowenthal: 1:32:40
  • Q&A Tipton: 1:37:25
  • Q&A Waterman: 1:45:30

For more background on the STC and the work they’ve done to reach this point, be sure to listen to our two-part podcast from July, 2016, linked below. Or, read any number of news articles we’ve published on this topic.

While I recommend listening to Stroll’s entire testimony, and potentially reading the lengthy written testimony linked above, here are the highlights.

Highlights of Ted Stroll’s Testimony on Behalf of the Sustainable Trails Coalition

Regarding historic mountain bike access in Wilderness areas and how that access has changed, Stroll also quoted Senator Frank Church: “If Congress had intended that Wilderness be administered in so stringent a manner, we would never have written the law as we did.” In his written testimony, Stroll gives extensive historical evidence that Congress intended to include bicycles in Wilderness areas. He concludes by writing, “in other words, Congress did not mean to prohibit people from moving themselves about entirely under their own power, even if they relied on ancillary mechanical (but nonmotorized) devices, like a bicycle, to do this.” Consequently, H.R. 1349 “does not materially amend the Wilderness Act of 1964. Rather, it restores the Act to its original meaning.”

For those who would qualify the quest for mountain bike access in Wilderness areas as a minor issue, Stroll succinctly highlights the problem in his written testimony:

“In Colorado, more than 80 percent of all roadless federal land is Wilderness. About 15 percent of the entire land area of California—not just of public lands, but of the whole state—is Wilderness. Because of the agencies’ Wilderness bicycling bans, mountain biking is prohibited in a number of areas around Lake Tahoe, in the state’s far north, throughout the Sierra Nevada, within two or three hours’ drive from the Bay Area, and the Los Angeles basin, and in San Diego County. Similar situations exist in every western state.”

To head off common arguments against the bill, Stroll briefly highlighted the limited intentions of what he calls a “modest, cautious reform” in his oral testimony:

“STC endorses this modest, cautious reform. H.R. 1349 doesn’t give bicycling a blanket permit. It only ends the antiquated blanket bans, and stops there. It leaves in place regulations that let local forest and park supervisors decide who can be on a particular Wilderness trail. This was the Forest Service’s own rule from 1981-1984.”

During the Q&A session, Stroll further emphasized how modest the bill is, saying “it only allows human-powered travel in an area where Congress always intended human-powered travel. It doesn’t open up Wilderness to jeeps, or ATVs, or motorcycles, or similar devices.”

The assault on public lands is fresh in the minds of millions of environmentally-minded Americans, with the recent drastic reduction in the size of the Bears Ears and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments by the President. Stroll anticipated that some people will think H.R. 1349 will continue this frightening trend, despite his repeated arguments that this is unequivocally not the case. He highlights the likely rebuttal:

“It will come from the Wilderness industry, an enterprise comprising people with strong ideological opposition to human activity in public lands, commercial pack outfitters, and organizations that raise money by scaring people, that Congress will abolish Wilderness or dilute it out of all recognition. The latter are almost certain to tell the gullible that H.R. 1349 is part of that ultimate goal.”

“If people are serious about conservation, they should support managing Wilderness by human-caused impacts, not some other value of personal preference or convenience that often fits neatly with what those individuals like do to in Wilderness,” said Stroll.

Backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Photo: Greg Heil

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# Comments

  • C-Lo

    Lowenthal was super upset that he was alone on his stance. Sad that people think like this. If people lived life like the chairman, this world would be a great place. He had an incident with a horseback rider and didn’t hold all horseback riders accountable for the incident.

  • Zoso

    I was a bit surprised the Forest Service guy was so useless on the matter. I was half expecting him to get all preachy about how evil bikes are.

    Nice work Stroll!

  • mongwolf

    Rep McClintock (Republican) sponsors the bill, and Rep Lowenthal (Democrat) stands against it. I am very happy that there is a real effort to restore the WA to its original intents to some degree. The next step would be to use the Wilderness Act ONLY for large tracts of land instead of some of the silly uses it has been applied. The original writings for the Act defined wilderness areas as large enough to take a two-week horse pack trip. Today we have multiple WAs less than 100 acres, even 40, 15 acres and less. Absolutely crazy. These smaller areas should be designated in another way, such as National Monuments. And that brings up the whole abuse and misuse of the National Monuments designation. Read my post on Greg’s article yesterday about this congressional hearing. Do a little homework and start reading about special land designations in our nation. We are users of our great lands. We should understand them better. I know some will not like this … … but Trump was TOTALLY RIGHT to make the change of designation on the Bears Ears and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments and other NMs. They were mis-designated. And don’t worry, they are still under protection. I want them protected wisely. But now they need to go through the proper process and be designated properly for their protection (preservation) or sustainable use (conservation). The NM designation by law is only for point or very small location in the landscape, not large tracts of land. While the WA was to be used only for very large tracts of land. The specified sizes are inherent in the meaning of the words (wilderness and monument) and are clearly expressed in wording of the Acts.

  • sethyancey

    Will someone please point out to Lowenthal (and others) that the terms “mechanized transport” or “mechanical transport” were directed toward chair-lift or surface-lift types of transport. The Merriam-Webster definitions for the two terms do not bring to mind bicycles at all.

  • DanK_NoCo

    Ted _needs_ to be prepared to answer the question about the advancement of bicycle technolgy in a convincing way.
    John’s top 10 hits the topic. Parts of his answers to #1,4,5,6 would produce a strong four point response to use in the future.

  • Fast n Slow

    There has been huge advancement in hiking gear and back packs as well. advancements that were not even imagined when the WA was first put in place. Equipment will advance in there intended purpose. Of course bikes have advanced in trail use, so have rode bikes. Matter of fact the bike I bought for my 10 year old son, is definitely not like the bikes I grew up with.
    The use of advancement just doesn’t wash for the argument against using bikes in WA.

    • isawtman

      The advanced Hiking gear doesn’t allow you to go several times faster than you could without it.

  • Fast n Slow

    I do a fair amount of flying into remote air strips to go camping. There’s a strip in Idaho that’s in a wilderness area. It was grandfatherd in when the WA was established. I was there camping with a friend, and we needed to fill up our water containers up at the ranger station. From where we were it was about 3/4 mile walk up hill. So we put his containers in the ice chest that had wheels on it to make it easier for him. He’s72 years old. He pulled the cooler while I cared a container to be filled. When we were filling up the water containers the Ranger came out and chewed out my friend, “wheels are not &$_-&$$#ng aloud in WA’s” yes he was using words I shouldn’t repeat. (Our taxes at work.) My friend pointed over to the horse pulled lawn mower that the Ranger uses to move the runway. The fact that it had two wheels on it was not lost in the translation. The Ranger turned around and loudly cussed his way back to his office.
    It’s this kind of attitude that changed the WA in 77 and will never except anyone doing anything that they don’t approve of.
    As tax payers, we pay them to take care of our lands and help us enjoy those lands. They think they can make up the rules, that’s NOT their job.

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