The Forest Service response regarding bike access in Montana’s Blue Joint and Sapphire wilderness study areas that was delayed on March 11 was released this morning.
The good news: The response creates an opportunity for an agreeable outcome. It directs the Forest Service to review and consider the new data that IMBA and Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists put forth on trail use. It also requires review of a proposed resolution that collaboratively includes trail closures, openings, and seasonal restrictions. The response states that the, “Forest highly values its partnership with Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists and others partners and volunteers.”
All this puts the final trail-by-trail decision back to the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor. Matt Anderson is the new supervisor, and has been on the job five days. Our conversations with Anderson—of which there have been several this week—have been positive. Collaborative solutions have been at the forefront of every discussion. We commend Anderson for this early collaborative outreach and look forward to working with the supervisor in the near future.
The bad news: As expected, the response relies upon and defers to the previous court ruling on this issue. Unfortunately the review paraphrases and downplays numerous objection arguments in ways which simplify the Forest Service rebuttal to the argument without fully exploring the issue raised.
What’s next? We will keep working with the forest supervisor, local mountain bikers and all stakeholders on a solution. Our proposed resolution provides justification for restoring access to a set of trails in each of the two wilderness study areas. These recommendations are based on quality and desired experiences for mountain bikers, as well as accounting for current trail use and forest management factors. We continue to seek reform to management of recommended wilderness and wilderness study areas so mountain bikes are not excluded from these areas.
We can’t thank mountain bikers enough for their hard work and passion for the Bitterroot. Mountain bikers locally and nationally have been staying engaged, sending more than 3100 letters, collaborating with partners, seeking balanced solutions and putting in serious volunteer hours on the trails. We submitted an objection and worked to secure a March 4th meeting with the Forest Service, and Aaron Clark from our Government Affairs team joined Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists and other local mountain bikers at the meeting to advocate for restoring bike access to these areas. This ongoing advocacy and education work happening for the Bitterroot resulted in Senator Daines urging the Forest Service to reconsider these trail closures in a letter sent March 7, and we commend the Senator for raising concerns.
We will continue working with all stakeholders and the Forest Service on a solution that restores access to these cherished trails. Our vision is that everyone across the U.S. has access to great trails—from close-to-home rides to iconic, backcountry experiences. These trails in the Bitterroot are the backcountry gems we all dream of, and we will continue to work to protect them.
Thank you for staying engaged, and enjoy the ride!