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GUEST COLUMN: Sportsmen: Mountain bikes and wilderness a bad mix

By: David Lien
January 14, 2018 Updated: January 24, 2018 at 8:21 am
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Last summer the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers chapter held our annual Rendezvous in Sylvan Lake State Park near Eagle, west of the 123,400-acre Holy Cross Wilderness. One of the many wildlands and wildlife conservation-related topics that came up during our discussions was the increasing impact of mountains bikes on public lands habitat.

Wildlife habitat in Colorado is being significantly impacted by the proliferation of mountain bike trails. Sportsmen and wildlife managers are finding that hunting opportunities are being compromised by trail development in many parts of the state. In the Roaring Fork Valley, for example, user-created trails have displaced elk to a point where a BHA member, Bob Shettel, no longer finds elk in traditional hunting areas north of Basalt.

At the same time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is growing increasingly concerned about decreasing elk numbers in the vicinity of mountain bike trails. Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager, Jim Haskins, wrote: "New mountain bike [trail] construction will likely result in permanent habitat fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation impedes the movement of wildlife across landscapes. Looped trails may create islands of habitat that may be avoided entirely by wildlife."

Unfortunately, just as the negative impact of mountain bike trail proliferation on public lands is becoming increasingly apparent, anti-public lands advocates in Congress are looking to allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas (via bill H.R. 1349). As explained in the Jan. 7 Colorado Springs Gazette ("Should mountain bikers be allowed on wilderness land?"): the "proposed federal legislation that would amend the Wilderness Act is setting off alarms ."

A mountain biking splinter group, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, has joined forces with the worst anti-wilderness Republicans to promote this attack. In addition, the Republican committee leadership corrupted the hearing process on H.R. 1349 by refusing to allow testimony by any of the 133 organizations that co-signed a letter opposing the bill.[4]

Sustainable Trails Coalition's initiative is also opposed by a major player in the mountain biking community: the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Founded in 1988, IMBA has more than 40,000 members worldwide.

John Wheaton, a Boise mountain biker, said the bill appeals to "a small group of mountain bikers who feel entitled to do anything they want in the wilderness."

Many hunters and anglers are also mountain bikers, but we're satisfied with being able to ride in the 97 percent of the U.S. that is not designated wilderness. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) agrees. "Our wilderness areas are special and those who enjoy these pristine lands, including our guides and outfitters, should not have to worry about mountain bikes and other vehicles on our wilderness land and trails," she said.

During our rendezvous at Sylvan Lake last summer, Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager, Craig Wescoatt, stopped by. He's concerned that elk are also being displaced by mountain bike trails in the Eagle area. We are too. In the words of BHA and NRA life member, Bull Sustrich: "The fact is, nothing yet created by mankind can offer the degree of wildlife refuge as that provided by wilderness designation."

BHA President and CEO, Land Tawney, adds: "Wilderness areas encompass some of our rarest, most precious lands and waters, and their existence prevents the fragmentation of invaluable fish and wildlife habitat. While mountain bikes are enjoyed in appropriate places by many BHA members, they have no place in our wilderness."

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David Lien is a former Air Force officer, NRA life member and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

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