Changing rules for eMTBs on federal public lands
We at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) are pleased that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has finalized the long awaited e-bike rule, and incorporated a number of IMBA’s recommendations throughout the development process. It’s a step forward in addressing access for eMTBs on federal land. We applaud the USFS for creating an atmosphere where local stakeholders in partnership with land managers will work together, through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, to develop the best policy to allow access for eMTBs for their community. Unfortunately USFS fell short as it relates to reclassifying non-motorized trails to motorized trails where eMTBs are allowed. We will continue to work with the national office as well as regional and local forest staff to find the best solution for eMTB access.
The IMBA team is working on a more detailed analysis of the final rule to help IMBA Local Partners navigate what changes this rule will mean for trails, and when. Expect more information from IMBA in the next few weeks.
The U.S. Forest Service released proposed directives on eMTB management on September 24th, 2020. The release coincided with a public comment period open through October 26th, 2020. IMBA prepared summary guidance and an official comment on the proposed directives, sharing both and encouraging IMBA Local Partners and engaged mountain bikers to send individual comments on the proposed directives. Thousands of mountain bikers took the time to share their thoughts with the U.S. Forest Service and inform the final ruling.
The final rule has some great elements: it requires a local public process to adequately collect local sentiment on possible pros and cons of eMTB access, through NEPA and Travel Management planning; it distinguishes between class 1, class 2 and class 3 eMTBs to ensure quality experiences for all trail users; and it manages eMTBs as a new category, separate from traditional mountain bikes. These steps are all in line with IMBA’s recommendations.
However, the final rule does not create an exclusion for eMTBs, therefore the directives would reclassify non-motorized trails as motorized trails to allow eMTB access. This will create funding complications, lead to increased user conflicts, and fundamentally change non-motorized trail allocations across the forest system.