No_cycling_sign_at_the_start_of_a_footpathThis is our last chance to influence what parts of our region’s National Forests that bicyclists will be allowed to enter.  YOUR VOICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE.  Please comment today, it only takes a few minutes.  The cut-off date is October 8th so please don’t wait.  Link to comment page here.

Start with a short personal note like “I ride my bicycle in the HLCNF.”  Then add any input you’d like the USFS to hear.  MTB Advocates in our area suggest the following comments

  1. I oppose any Forest Use Plan provisions that would close the Ice Caves Loop in the Snowy Mountains to bicycling.
  1. I support the Alternative C provision that would allow continued bicycling in Recommended Wilderness Areas until Congress makes them Wilderness.
  1. I oppose closing the central part of the Elkhorn Mountains to bicycling as is discussed in Alternative C.

John Juras’s (my) comments to the Plan follow.  You are encouraged to use as much of this content as you might agree with.

  1. Introduction

Perhaps the greatest joy I’ve experienced in 30 years of living in Montana has been exploring the National Forests on my bicycle.  The boundless National Forests in many parts of Montana have given me fantastic bicycling opportunities.  Places to take my fitness, riding skill, and love for exploring the mountains to their limits.  In the thousands of hours I’ve spent riding NF trails, I’ve never experienced a single user conflict.  I cannot fathom a single logical reason to prohibit bicycling on any HLCNF trail except congressionally designated Wilderness areas.  Sadly, Wilderness advocates have systematically kicked me off of many of my favorite trails in Montana’s National Forests over the last 12 years in the name of “preservation”.

  1. Bicycle Use of NF Lands and “Social Sustainability”

The 2012 Planning Rule requires consideration of “social sustainability” of our National Forests.  Encouraging varied uses of our national forests helps build a public consensus of support for continued USDA funding of USFS priorities.  Fortunately, a growing group of young bicycling enthusiasts advocate strongly for varied uses of our forests and works HARD to support our forests.  Sadly, past forest management efforts have treated bicyclists like noxious weeds.  For example, “My decision prohibits bicycling ….  I took this action because the area’s wilderness values would be best protected by not allowing incompatible uses to become established…”, Lesley (Spike) Thompson, page 26, ROD for Birch Creek South, Oct 2007.  The Region 1 policy to kick bicycles out of RWA’s violates the Planning Rules’ social sustainability requirement.  This policy also conflicts with other USFS Regions’ practices.  Broad support is vital to sustain our National Forests.  One or two groups who would keep wild areas as their own exclusive playground or preserve are creating socially UN-sustainable National Forests.  Bicyclists are a vital social component of our wild lands.  Please do not create more RWA’s.

  1. Alternative C Provision to allow continued Mechanized and Motorized use in RWA’s.

If the USFS must create RWA’s in the HLCNF, P L E A S E    I M P L E M E N T this provision.  It recognizes that bicycle activity doesn’t reduce wilderness character.  Allowing continued bicycling and motorized activity also doesn’t reduce the potential for an area to someday become designated Wilderness.  In fact two recent bills in Idaho and Montana were passed while bicyclists were actively using the areas. The record shows that Congress, when ready to pass a Wilderness bill, does not show hesitation to designate Wilderness even if bicycle use is present.

This provision allows the USFS to identify appropriate places for future inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System without requiring alienation of existing uses and is consistent with other Regions’ practices. For example, Forest Service Region Four in Idaho and Utah allows existing uses to continue within RWA’s.  Montana’s Region One takes a step into politics by removing uses to create defacto Wilderness and at the same time removing access for local advocates, who are deeply invested in their favorite wild areas. This difference in regional philosophies causes a lot of confusion and consternation – highlighting the need for a consistent management policy nationwide. The Region One RWA management philosophy is out of touch with most constituents.  Thank you HLCNF for offering this possible provision.  Bicyclists are taxpayers who boost local economies.  We love our wild places and we take pride in helping the USFS keep the trails open.

  1. Big Snowy Mountains – Please specify some alternate designation such as a Conservation Management Area (similar to the RMFHA designation) rather than RWA for this area.   The Snowies do not meet the Wilderness Act’s description of Wilderness.  The Wilderness Act of 1964says “Prohibition of Certain Uses – Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road, … and no structure or installation within any such area.”  The Plan identifies many existing structures in the potential RWA including a radio tower.  On a recent bicycle ride in the Snowies, I observed a two track road from the crest of the mountain ridge that came right up to the base of the ridge from the south.  Sure, the FS could close roads and remove structures in the area, but then the FS is attempting to CREATE Wilderness settings instead of preserving them, which is not the intent of the Act.  Please do not designate the Big Snowies as an RWA.
  2. Elkhorn Mountains – Please do not close the central part of the Elkhorns to bicycling. The soft reasoning for the possible closing of this area to bicyclists “so as to not disturb the wildlife” while leaving it open to hikers and horsemen appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to  create a hikers and horsemen only preserve.  Even the Plan itself admits that the “wildlife protection” reasoning is not logical.  I understand that this provision was a last minute rewrite of Alternative C based on the request of a very limited number of individuals.  Aren’t the millions of acres of Wilderness in HLCNF enough of an exclusive preserve?

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