In a recent push to undermine one of our most bedrock conservation laws, the Wilderness Act of 1964, some congressional representatives are seeking to open wilderness areas up to mountain bikes - an activity specifically prohibited by the Wilderness Act. Learn more how you can take action to maintain the integrity of the Wilderness Act here.
Wilderness areas were established “…in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…”
Earlier this year, Representatives McClintock (R-CA), Hunter (R-CA), Westerman (R-AR) and Pearce (R-NM) introduced H.R. 1349 which would amend the above language in the Wilderness Act (Section 4(c)) to allow for mechanized and motorized use, undermining one of the main reasons the Wilderness Act was passed into law in the first place (read the full bill text here).
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H.R. 1349 attempts to use wheelchair access as one of the main reasons behind amending the core of the Wilderness Act. Since section 507 of the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it clear that wheelchairs are already allowed in Wilderness, this rationale falls short - making one wonder the true motive behind such a bill.
As the Wilderness Society points out, "H.R. 1349 is championed by several long-time opponents of Wilderness and other forms of land protection. The four original co-sponsors of the bill have a lifetime League of Conservation environmental voting score of only 2.75% (i.e. they vote in support of the environment only 2.75% of the time). Given this track record and the bill’s language, it is clear that H.R. 1349’s real purpose is to undermine one of our nations bedrock conservation laws." These same representatives who sponsored this bill have also voted to make it easier to sell off our public lands and undermine other conservation tools like the Antiquities Act.
H.R. 1349 is not the first attack on the Wilderness Act of 1964. A Senate bill (S. 3205) also aimed to open wilderness areas to mountain bikes and other forms of mechanical transportation was introduced last year.
We agree with wilderness historian, Doug Scott's perspective on what's really at stake if these type of bills go through,
"Ultimately, this is not really a debate about whether to allow bikes in wilderness, but whether we will allow the first incursion against a law that has held firm for 52 years to protect America’s disappearing wild heritage. Senator Lee has argued that his legislation is intended to “enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by making it easier for them to mountain bike in wilderness areas.”
The two Utah senators sponsoring this effort have made no secret of their disdain for the federal government’s ownership and management of Western lands. They also support putting hundreds of millions of acres in the hands of the states and localities.
More than 600 million acres have been set aside as national parks, forests and other federal lands. Of that, 109 million acres have been designated as federal wilderness, with its extra layer of safeguarding. Much of the rest is available to cyclists."
Public lands provide a bounty of outdoor recreational opportunities - from hiking and backpacking to mountain biking and dirt biking. Since Nevada is more than 80% public land, there's plenty of room for all of us to enjoy the outdoor recreational pursuits we prefer. Wilderness makes up a little over 3% of Nevada - that translates to a staggeringly huge piece of the public land pie for mechanized and motorized outdoor recreationists. Why shouldn't wilderness enthusiasts be able to enjoy their small slice of non-mechanized recreation?
As different user groups are starting to come together to defend public lands from being transferred to state control or privatized, it's no coincidence that these bills - strategically aimed to divide outdoor recreation groups - are starting to be introduced. Clearly, they're trying to divide and conquer.