Dave Wiens, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), has responded to the organization’s controversial stance on amending the Wilderness Act. In a blog posted on IMBA’s website on Saturday, Wiens answered a list of common questions about IMBA’s position. This comes after IMBA submitted testimony against H.R. 1349, a bill that would allow mountain bike access to Wilderness Areas. This decision--though not a surprise as IMBA has previously said it would not support the bill--ruffled many feathers in the mountain bike world.
The biggest question is: why? Wiens states that in the current political landscape, public lands are more at risk than ever. Think President Trump’s recent directive to drastically shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. IMBA believes amending the Wilderness Act to offer more access is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to protection. IMBA further states that by delving into the matter of Wilderness access, the recreation and conservation communities are divided at a time when it is most important to work together.
Wiens points to IMBA’s long-standing relationships with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, and says he doesn’t want to jeopardize these relationships when working on Wilderness access. Wiens continues by saying that these relationships are the foundation of what IMBA has been able to achieve for mountain bike access. According to Wiens, these federal agencies have indicated they have no interest in amending the Wilderness Act. If these federal agencies no longer saw IMBA as a productive partner, Wiens says that could put access across the country at risk.
What about the joint statement put out by IMBA and the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) in 2016? Wiens reiterated that the statement did not sugarcoat that the two organizations have diverging goals. While crafting the testimony against H.R. 1349, Wiens and IMBA made sure to consult the joint statement and did not put forth any new information on IMBA’s Wilderness stance that was not already in the statement made with STC. New information did come in the statement when referring to ‘Recommended Wilderness.’
IMBA has decided to put its efforts toward protecting existing access, which is currently at risk under the Recommended Wilderness Area (RWA) designation. Recommended Wilderness can be managed however the Forest Service sees fit, and management across the country is inconsistent. Most notably, in North Dakota, Montana and northern Idaho, RWAs are being managed as Wilderness, which has resulted in the loss of access to 800 miles of trails. Reporter Devon O’Neil investigated this extensively in our “Lines in the Dirt” series earlier this year. IMBA is focusing on protecting these already established trails for future access as opposed to focusing on changing the Wilderness Act.
The H.R. 1349 bill has been introduced to the House of Representatives, referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and subsequently referred to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands. The bill has not been voted on and still needs to pass the House and Senate before appearing in front of the president to be signed into law.