cycling utah October 1998
By Dave Iltis
In April, the International Mountain Bike Association(IMBA), an environmentally and socially conscious trail access organization, held a meeting in Park City to decide whether or not to join the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC), a coalition of over 150 organizations that support the citizen's wilderness proposal (H.R. 1500, currently 5.7 million acres, possibly as much as 8.5 million acres).
IMBA decided not to join the coalition, but instead to work as partner towards preserving the lands in question, though not necessarily as wilderness. "IMBA's policy on wilderness is as follows:
1. IMBA is committed to protecting wildlands and open space while allowing for appropriate bicycle access.
2. IMBA values the role the 1964 Wilderness Act has had in protecting wild places. IMBA believes that additional Wilderness designations are warranted and will support these when appropriate.
3. Bicyclists must be at the table when wilderness decisions are being made. IMBA is committed to maintaining access to traditional and important bicycle trails through attention to wilderness boundaries and the use of alternative land protection designations (e.g., National Conservation Areas (NCA), Wild and Scenic River Zones, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (AECA), National Monuments, etc.).
4. IMBA is not advocating the introduction of mountain bikes in existing designated wilderness areas. However, IMBA believes that bicyclists are appropriate, muscle-powered trail users that are compatible with the philosophy of the 1964 Wilderness Act and the intent of Congress to exclude motorized "mechanized transport" from Wilderness areas. In 1984, the definition of "mechanized transport" was extended to mountain bikes without adequate data, experience or input.
IMBA is a nonprofit, public-supported organization. The mission of IMBA is to promote mountain bicycling opportunities that are environmentally and socially responsible. " IMBA's Position Falls Short
While their commitment to preservation is admirable, their position on wilderness falls far short politically, environmentally, and in being self-consistent with their policy on wilderness and their mission statement.
IMBA should join UWC. First, there has been contention between environmental groups and mountain biking for a number of years. The Sierra Club has been slowly swayed toward accepting mountain bikes as fellow trail users in non-wilderness areas. IMBA's refusal to join UWC threatens to alienate groups such as the Sierra Club both in their acceptance of mountain bikes and as political allies in the future when trail access issues arise. Their decision is divisive within the environmental community. Second, IMBA's position unintentionally allies them with politicians such as Rep. Jim Hansen and Rep. Chris Cannon who support minimal wilderness and minimal protection of the land. Their position conflicts with IMBA's mission statement.
IMBA wishes to see the land protected under an alternative designations. Unfortunately, none of these alternative designations afford as much protection to the land as wilderness which, among other things, prevents roadbuilding, logging, new mining, and other commercial uses, in addition to vehicles and, controversially, bicycles. NCA's only protect what is worked out when designating a particular NCA; harmful roads, mining, buildings, and more can be allowed depending on what is negotiated. AECA's only protect particular resources (visual, wildlife, etc.) and are not all encompassing in regards to protection of the land. National Monuments are at the moment highly politically charged because of the designation of the Grand Staircase. It is unlikely that we would see multiple National Monuments around the state to protect the multitude of lands that require it.
Not fully protecting the land allows further encroachments on the land. This is important for two reasons: First, from Aldo Leopold, "There are some who can live without wild things, there are some who cannot." Wilderness designation preserves the wildness that so many of us need as life blood. Second, and perhaps more importantly, wilderness affords the highest degree of protection for the biota. From the Committee for Biological Commentary on Utah Wilderness Issues, a group of 31 biologists, "Large areas with minimal human intrusion and natural processes reasonably intact are critical elements of an in situ conservation strategy; they provide protection for fragile habitats, like easily eroded soils, and preserve habitat for reclusive species. Moreover, wilderness areas offer natural ecosystems some protection from the biological invasions that have devastated many communities, especially plant communities, across Utah."
The main point that IMBA wants is bicycle access to lands as the 1964 Wilderness Act states, "..where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man is a visitor but does not remain..." Whether or not bikes should be allowed in wilderness is a separate question than whether the land should be protected as wilderness and should be addressed in a different forum than the designation of Utah wilderness. Their own position states that they do not wish to see bikes in existing wilderness yet they wish to see bikes allowed on land that exists as wilderness study areas or as de facto wilderness. This is inconsistent.
To be environmentally responsible and consistent with their mission, IMBA should support the full protection of all appropriate wilderness lands and join the UWC. To preserve bicycle access, IMBA, as they state in their policy, should, on a case by case basis, work on boundary designation where appropriate and where important and well used trails are threatened. Under current proposals, approximately 98% of the bike trails in the Moab area would remain open as well as 60% of Utah BLM lands. However, where changing boundaries is not appropriate, IMBA should take the high road and support wilderness even if it means no bicycles. Utah wilderness and the UWC need IMBA. IMBA should do the right thing and join.