It has been a winding, and confusing road for eMTB access in the Tahoe National Forest (TNF), but the rules are clear again. Electric mountain bike access has been revoked on TNF non-motorized trails, after a short-lived period of about ten months.
Last year in July, we spoke with the public affairs officer with TNF, Joe Flannery, who talked about the non-decision/decision to first allow eMTBs on non-motorized trails in the district.
“We didn’t trigger NEPA and NEPA didn’t need to be triggered,” said Flannery. The further classification of class 1, 2, and 3 eMTBs allowed the Forest Service district to understand the bikes more, and then allow class 1 eMTBs on non-motorized trails. That said, TNF didn’t say that eMTBs weren’t motorized, they just said that they could treat and manage them as non-motorized vehicles because of the eMTB’s “self-propelled nature.”
Flannery also mentioned that frequenters of the Tahoe National Forest were continuously asking about more eMTB access.
Just four months later, a group of organized equestrians sued the TNF over their decision to allow eMTBs on non-motorized trails.
“Backcountry trail and forest groups in California joined together to challenge the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow motorized bikes to operate on non-motorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest,” said the Western Environmental Law Center in a statement released in October 2019.
The groups mentioned were made up of the Gold Country Trails Council, the Back Country Horsemen of California, and the Back Country Horsemen of America.
“The Forest Service cannot simply disregard its own rules when it comes to allowing electric bikes on non-motorized trails on the Tahoe National Forest,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “With this lawsuit, we seek to compel the agency to follow those rules.”
It looks like the Forest Service has been compelled. According to a statement on Mother Lode Trails, the Gold Country Trails Council sent a letter to its members announcing the news.
“As you know, we participated in a lawsuit with The Wilderness Society and Back Country Horsemen opposing the reclassification of Class 1 E-bikes as non-motorized vehicles and allowing them on non-motorized trails in Tahoe National Forest. The lawsuit was successful, and Tahoe National Forest currently does not allow E-bikes on non-motorized trails in Tahoe National Forest.”
This is reflected on the TNF website.
“The Tahoe National Forest has removed its earlier statement, first published on this website July 9, 2019, which extended opportunities for class 1 e-bike riders to use recommended non-motorized trails in the Forest.”
“E-bike use on National Forest System (NFS) roads and trails is governed by existing Forest Service regulations, directives, and policies, as reflected on the website for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service.”
The decision reverts eMTB use in the national forest back to designated motorized trails. While the lawsuit is currently successful in limiting eMTBs to motorized trails, that may change yet again in the future, and not solely for Tahoe, at least according to this paragraph at the end of their statement.
“The Forest Service is considering options that would expand e-bike access, including options for allowing e-bike use on NFS roads and trails where that use is not currently allowed. The Forest Service will continue to update the public on these efforts and any associated opportunities for public involvement.”