A Puzzle of Rock
In the Bitterroot National Forest, a series of rulings have currently closed 120 miles of cherished backcountry trails to mountain bikes. Even after decades of trail maintenance and the trails falling into disrepair without mountain bikers having access to maintain them, mountain bikers are now banned from these special rides.
This trend of losing access in Montana’s Forests needs to stop. Today, you have the opportunity to amplify the voice of Montana mountain bikers. This is every mountain biker’s chance to tell the Forest Service that mountain bikes have earned continued access to these trails, and are every bit as invested in the beauty, wonder and protection of public lands as our fellow trail users.
The comment period closes November 19.
How did we get here? In 2015, the Bitterroot National Forest closed 120 miles of trails in the Bluejoint and Sapphire wilderness study areas, which had long been sustainably enjoyed by mountain bikers. These closures were added to the forest's travel management plan at the end of the process and failed to give opportunity for public comment, which did not follow proper legal procedure. Following the revised plan, IMBA worked with and advised local IMBA chapter Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists as they joined with other groups to file a lawsuit challenging the plan. In response, the courts have ordered a public objection period specific to the closure of the two wilderness study areas to mountain bikes.
IMBA has worked closely with Montana mountain bikers on this issue for several years. Our team closely monitored and commented on the forest's travel management plan and advised Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists on their pursuit of litigation following the revised plan. Since the court ruling, we have met regularly with the leadership of local mountain bike groups and the Sustainable Trails Coalition to collaborate on this issue, we have retained legal counsel to support the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists and local groups in writing shared comments and drafting a formal objection, and we continue to elevate mountain bikers' concerns over this issue with key elected officials and USFS leadership in Washington D.C.
IMBA advocates for bike-friendly land designations as well as the management reform of WSAs and recommended wilderness areas (RWAs). These RWAs and WSAs are separate designations than Congressionally Designated Wilderness, which adheres to the 1964 Wilderness Act. The Forest Service manages mountain bike access to RWAs and WSAs inconsistently across Forest Service regions, and fails to utilize the adaptive management guidelines in the forest service handbook. We continue to seek reform to management of RWAs and WSAs so mountain bikes are not excluded from these areas.
To learn more about the history of bike access in the Bitterroot, read Mountain Flyer Magazine's deep dive and recent update. Follow the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists for more updates. Please note, your comment must follow the format of purpose, description of issues, and requested relief to be considered. See the USFS objections guidelines for more details.