A coalition of 133 conservation groups has submitted a letter to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee opposing a bill to allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas.

The bill, H.R. 1349, would amend the Wilderness Act by adding, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”

The bill, which originated early in 2016 with a Colorado-based group called the Sustainable Trails Coalition, was introduced in the current 115th Congress in March by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and heard before the Subcommittee on Federal Lands on Dec. 7.

The signatories to the letter opposing it include national organizations such as the Sierra Club, as well as Idaho organizations that include Idaho Rivers United, the Idaho Falls-based Idaho Environmental Council and Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project.

“For over a half century, the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities,” the letter states. “This has meant, as Congress intended, that wildernesses have been kept free from bicycles and other types of mechanization and mechanical transport. The undersigned believe that this protection has served our nation well, and that the ‘benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness’ would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport in these areas.”

In a news release, Missoula, Mont.,-based organization Wilderness Watch stated that the bill “would open up all of America’s 110-million acres of wilderness to mountain bikes and other wheeled contraptions.”

However, the Sustainable Trails Coalition states on its website that the legislation would allow land-management agencies to allow mountain biking only on trails where they deem it appropriate.

“The legislation only reverses federal agencies’ blanket bicycle bans, which rest on a misunderstanding of the Wilderness Act of 1964,” the website states. “When the blanket bans are gone, agency regulations will take over, at which point land managers can enable full regulation and control of mountain biking, up to and including existing limitations and bans.”

The organization stated that it hopes to have the bill reintroduced in the Senate as well.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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