Washington, DC — The Interior Department is preparing to jettison a two-decade old regulation that protects parks in favor of opening more backcountry trails to mountain bicycles, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan would eliminate public review and comment for new bike trails, which could be opened in any park area not prohibited by law.
Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty will propose “Mountain Bike Final regulations November / December”, according to an agency schedule obtained by PEER. This action would cap to a longstanding campaign by the International Mountain Bicycle Association (IMBA) to weaken current park protections.
“This is a lame duck gift for our Mountain-Biker-in-Chief,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that this proposed regulation is well past the proposed deadlines announced this summer by the White House Chief of Staff. “With all the troubles facing the country, the White House should be concerned about more than where the president can ride his bike.”
While PEER applauds getting more people out of their cars to bike on the paved and dirt roads of our parks, mountain biking on narrow trails may damage resources and conflict with visitor enjoyment. For this reason, the National Park Service adopted regulations for bicycles in 1987, during the Reagan administration, which allow mountain bikes on trails only after an individual park follows a stringent decision-making process that allows for closer scrutiny. The process requires notice of a proposed regulation in the Federal Register and publication of a special federal regulation. Several parks have adopted the necessary special regulations to allow bikes. Among the parks are Saguaro National Park, Arizona and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California.
By contrast, under the plan pushed by IMBA, each park manager could designate backcountry trails open to mountain bikes by making a simple notation in an internal document called a “compendium” which is available to the public upon request but receives no public notice or public comment prior to approval. Nor would a park manager prepare any environmental compliance under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws prior to adoption.
“The pending proposed bicycle rule is a step backward for park conservation. IMBA is correct to anticipate that such a lax and nearly invisible process will open many more trails to bikes,” commented PEER Board member Frank Buono, a long-time former NPS manager. “We think the current rule is a good one. PEER does not oppose mountain bikes on trails in backcountry areas that are outside of designated, proposed or recommended wilderness but each proposal to allow bikes on backcountry trails should be thoughtfully and publicly considered.”
Similar to the pending revision of the NPS gun rules sponsored by the National Rifle Association, the IMBA mountain biking proposal will not be accompanied by any review to determine how the proposed regulation would affect the quality of the parks environment.