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Frequently Asked Questions: Wilderness and IMBA

What is Wilderness?

The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas in the U.S. from coast to coast. The Act created a way for Congress and Americans to designate "wilderness areas," which represent the nation's highest form of land protection. No roads, vehicles or permanent structures are allowed in designated wilderness; also prohibited are extraction activities such as timber harvesting and mining. Therefore, mechanized/mechanical forms of recreation, including bicycles, are not allowed in Wilderness. Four Federal agencies manage Wilderness areas: the Bureau of Land Management; Fish & Wildlife Service; National Park Service; and the Forest Service. In establishing the land management regulations required by the Act, all but the Forest Service banned bicycles from inception with the Forest Service following suit in 1984. Wilderness is seen by some as the gold standard in federal land protection, but Congress can use similar prescriptions like National Protection Area, National Scenic Area, National Recreation Area, National Conservation Area, National Monument and other designations to preserve the land. Wilderness is a place where natural processes are the primary influence on the land; where human activity is limited to primitive recreation. It is a place where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticed.

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Does IMBA Support Wilderness?

Yes, since 1988, IMBA has been working with local mountain bikers, federal and state legislators, outdoor recreation allies and stakeholders to protect hundreds of thousands of acres and preserve scenic and prized trails for bicycling. 

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What is IMBA's Wilderness Strategy?

IMBA's public policy strategies advocate that mountain biking, a low-impact, human-powered and quiet form of recreation, is an appropriate trail use on public lands and is consistent with the values of Wilderness land protection, which includes recreation in natural landscapes.

IMBA and its members have a deep-seated conservation ethic. However, in light of recent and increasing threats to mountain bike trail access, IMBA will take an increasingly assertive and active stance toward future trail access and efforts to designate public lands for conservation.

Our public policy and advocacy efforts will focus on future Wilderness proposals and recommendations where mountain bike trail access could be lost, where viable alternative land protection designations are appropriate and where local IMBA chapters are present to perform volunteer trail stewardship and engage in advocacy efforts. IMBA will continue to respect both the Wilderness Act and the federal land agencies' regulations that bicycles are not allowed in existing Wilderness areas. This 2016 position strategically aligns with our well-established and relevant mission to create, enhance and preserve great mountain biking experiences.

When proposed Wilderness areas include mountain biking assets and opportunities, IMBA advocates for and vigorously negotiates using a variety of legislative tools, including boundary adjustments, trail corridors and alternative land designations that protect natural areas while preserving bicycle access. IMBA can support new Wilderness designations only where they don't adversely impact singletrack trail access for mountain biking.

IMBA mobilizes and leads its grassroots network of chapters and members to productively participate in local forest and travel management planning negotiations, sometimes concerning wilderness proposals.  It is absolutely essential that IMBA chapters and members, cycling clubs and individuals advocate strongly for mountain biking in the earliest stages of wilderness proposals and forest planning processes. Through education, outreach, community and coalition building, collaborative partnerships and proactive media relations, mountain bikers can successfully influence and support appropriate land protection bills, including Wilderness, and preserve quality trail access.

Augmenting IMBA’s wilderness strategy is our focus on: 1) ensuring that the federal and state agencies responsible for managing Wilderness areas follow the law, especially the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), when designating areas as Recommended Wilderness; 2) lobbying for legislation to restore mountain bike trail access by redrawing existing Wilderness boundaries; and 3) insisting that fellow outdoor recreationists and non-recreationists respect and support our position that mountain biking is consistent with the values of Wilderness land protection.

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Do Mountain Bicyclists Support Land Protection?

IMBA members highly value land conservation, environmental stewardship and associated environmental benefits such as clean water, clean air, and soil conservation. Mountain bikers enjoy riding in natural areas on narrow singletrack trails, away from roads, development and resource extraction activities. Our sport takes us closer to nature in both backcountry and frontcountry settings and fosters an innate desire for environmental protection. Singletrack trail travel by bicycle is physically demanding, yet highly rewarding, and mountain bikers seek to preserve and protect these experiences.

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Is IMBA Trying to Get Bicycles in Existing Wilderness?

IMBA’s Board of Directors recently reasserted IMBA’s longstanding position on trail access, public land conservation and federally designated Wilderness. IMBA’s board has determined that IMBA's mission is best served by reiterating our strong commitment to collaboration and further diversifying and strengthening our broad partnerships that serve as the backbone of advocacy success for our chapter network. IMBA will not support any broad efforts by any organization to amend the existing Wilderness Act in its entirety or the federal land management agencies’ regulations on existing Wilderness areas as these are not strategically aligned with achieving our long-term mission.  

However, with a trail by trail, case by case basis, in conjunction with local chapter efforts, IMBA will pursue Congressional legislation to adjust existing wilderness boundaries that reopen trails currently closed to people riding bicycles.

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Does IMBA Collaborate With Other Stakeholders?

Absolutely, as collaboration is the most productive approach to addressing today's natural resource protection issues in our democracy. IMBA has a solid, successful track record of collaborating with our chapters, members, local cyclists, land management agency personnel, other outdoor recreationists and wilderness proponents to achieve protections for mountain biking trails and access. IMBA absolutely needs more members, chapters, allies and partners to engage in our mutually beneficial advocacy efforts to increase our overall effectiveness.

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Are Bicycles Appropriate in Wild Places?

Yes. Bicycling is a human-powered, low-impact, quiet form of travel and healthy outdoor recreation compatible with wild places and the intent of the Wilderness Act. Bicycling and other mechanized/mechanical forms of recreation are currently prohibited in Wilderness areas, as are all forms of mechanized/mechanical transportation. In addition, there are instances where bicycling may not be feasible or appropriate in some wild places. There are trails in existing or proposed wilderness that are simply too rugged to ride and sustainably maintain. On some National Scenic trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, IMBA also respects the current prohibition of bicycles. In other cases, trails should be closed to all forms of recreation (hiking, horse use, bicycling, etc.) when sensitive or endangered plants and wildlife, or weather-related seasonal conditions prevent sustainable and responsible use.

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