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To Mountain Bikers’ Dismay, Montana Wilderness Bill Added to Senate Appropriations Package

For Immediate Release 12-16-2010
Contact Mark Eller
IMBA Communications Director
markeller [at] imba [dot] com
303-545-9011 ext. 115

Montana mountain bikers were dealt a blow this week when a Senate bill was attached to the moving appropriations package in the waning days of the lame duck Congress. U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) convinced his colleagues to include the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 1470) to the Fiscal Year 2011 Consolidated Appropriations Bill. If the bill passes with Tester's legislation attached it will bring an end to cycling access on trails that mountain bikers have long enjoyed.

It is still unclear if the package will pass, as many members of the Senate are opposed to the omnibus appropriations measure. The Associated Press has released a story that addresses the mounting criticism to the Tester bill.

The Tester bill has several flaws, including the fact that it never gained approval by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. IMBA and local mountain bikers held more than 100 meetings over the last 5 years with the U.S. Forest Service, staff from Tester’s office and numerous stakeholders, including conservation and recreation groups, timber companies and county commissioners. IMBA’s legal team appealed Forest Service rulings that informed this legislation and submitted congressional testimony asking for key adjustments but these attempts did not yield satisfactory changes.

“IMBA and local mountain bicyclists have been extremely reasonable in our requests. We are on record with our support for more than 680,000 acres of Wilderness where cycling would not be allowed,” said IMBA Government Affairs Director Jenn Dice. “We asked for about 1,575 acres of adjustments for four critical areas, effecting 75 miles of trails. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to make the changes.”

Cyclists Lose Access to 400 Miles of Trails

IMBA's efforts in Montana did yield some positive results. A large National Recreation Area that would allow for continued cycling in more than 336,000 acres was adopted into the bill. Senator Tester also made one important late change dropping the Lost Cabin Wilderness and instead designated the Tobacco Roots Recreation Management Area.

Still, the bill will permanently close more than 400 miles of trails to mountain biking. IMBA requested four important changes to the bill that would have allowed our traditional use to continue on 75 miles of trail.

  • A 5.2-mile cherry-stem trail for Tahepia Lake Trail #2 (East Pioneers Wilderness Unit)
  • A boundary adjustment to allow continued access to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in the West Big Hole Proposed Wilderness Unit
  • A boundary adjustment for the Seeley Lake Proposed Wilderness Unit to provide for a popular loop ride for Missoula cyclists
  • The addition of trail corridors for several important cycling routes in the Italian Peaks Proposed Wilderness unit

“None of these important issues were resolved — despite our repeated requests — which we urged to the very last minute this week in Washington,” said Dice. “It appears that mountain bikers couldn't match the political clout of the Wilderness lobby or timber industry in Montana.”

Montana Montana Montana

IMBA’s Public Lands Initiative

IMBA firmly believes that land protection doesn’t have to be at the expense of bicycle access. There are numerous examples around the country where Congress has both protected the land and allowed continued cycling. IMBA's Public Lands Initiative is helping organize the bicycle community to create bicycle-friendly land designations. “Mountain bikers from across the country should look closely at what happened in Montana this week," said IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel. "Make sure your intereststs are being represented by regularly meeting with officials from your local U.S. Forest Service office, and consult with IMBA's regional and national staff if your club needs assistance."