On Thursday, Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty ordered the National Park Service to ease existing mountain biking restrictions, possibly opening nearly eight million acres of recommended or proposed wilderness lands in approximately 30 parks to mountain biking.
[social_buttons]The Bush administration has released several controversial rule changes and “clarifications” over the last few months that have put even the most critical of Bush’s environmental record into a state of disbelief at the potential environmental consequences of those regulations. But this one is a little different.
The rule change issued Thursday pits the sometimes-allied (non-motorized) recreational environmentalists against the “preservationists,” who see the rule change as just another human incursion into pristine areas that would further degrade its ecological integrity. Opponents argue that mountain biking can lead to erosion thus threatening stream health and that mountain bikers are often at the root of on-trail conflicts with hikers and horseback riders.
The rule overturns a 1987 regulation that required park officials to issue a special regulation when designating or constructing mountain bike trails. In essence, individual parks would be allowed to decide on their own about opening trails to biking, thus speeding up what is otherwise a lengthy process. The rule would not affect the mountain bike exclusion in designated wilderness areas covered by The Wilderness Act of 1964 which limits use to hiking and horseback.
“The pending proposed bicycle rule is an example of special interest intrusion into national park management,” said Frank Buono, of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a former Park Service manager. In a statement, Buono called the change “mysterious” as many parks have designated bike trails under the current Reagan-era rule.
But George W. Bush isn’t the only mountain biking enthusiast pumped about the rule change. Mike Van Abel, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, praised the rule change, saying it provides the right mix of public comment and environmental protection. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Van Abel in the Jackson Hole Daily. “The existing regulation treats bikes like they are motorized,” he said.
Van Abel said most of the ecological impacts of mountain biking could be mitigated with proper trail design. He said his group does not advocate for mountain biking in proposed wilderness in parks.
Bush, who is an avid mountain bike rider has yet to comment on the rule change. And whether he will actually spend any time mountain biking in the newly-availed National Park backcountry is another story. In a 2004 interview with Outside magazine, the President admitted, “I’m not one of these extreme bike-rider guys. I like the cardiovascular aspect. I like to be able to ride across the ranch.”
Soon he will have lots of time to do just that.