Open Letter to Senator Steve Daines,
Members of the Great Falls Bicycle Club seek your influence to help temper the current USFS drive to create defacto Wilderness areas throughout Montana and specifically in the Big Snowy Mountains. USFS bureaucrats have usurped Congress’s power to create Wilderness by inappropriately managing public land areas that they have selected as Recommended Wilderness Areas as if those lands had already been designated by Congress as federally protected Wilderness. USFS Region 1 guidelines (policies) effectively advocate for Wilderness and are therefore a gross overreach and abuse of the power we the people have entrusted to them.
The bureaucrats’ Forest Planning efforts in the HLCNF seem designed to undo your commendable efforts to release the Wilderness Study Areas that Congress designated in 1977. The USFS would lock them up again in the current process as RWA’s. In the HLCNF, the WSA in the Big Snowy Mountains has been targeted as a potential RWA in the current Forest Planning process. Bicyclists are very concerned about this alternative because the Snowys contain a regionally famous and well used mountain bike trail that would probably be closed to bicyclists if this area becomes an RWA so as to “maintain the area’s Wilderness character”.
At a recent local meeting, the HLCNF Forest Supervisor, Bill Avey, was asked if he intended to implement the USFS Region One “policy” to manage any new RWA’s he creates in the HLCNF to preclude uses that may damage future Wilderness designation. He confirmed that this was his intention. That intention will ban bicycle riding in the Snowy Mountains and all trails in the RWA’s unless Supervisor Avey chooses to allow our “non-conforming use” to continue as allowed in the 2012 Planning Rule. We fear he will kick us out, thus following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Spike Thompson, who kicked bicycles out of much of the Rocky Mountain Front in 2006 and was subsequently given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the MWA and the Wilderness Society at his 2011 retirement party.
Further concern comes from the wording of the recent Public Comment Summary of the HLCNF Forest Plan Revision Scoping Document. Referring to bicyclist’s comments as “Mechanized Use” is a typical Wilderness advocate’s distortion of the intent of the Wilderness Act. The Act’s original implementation language specifically prohibited “non-human powered vehicles”, i.e. motorized vehicles. This implementation language was overturned in the early 1980’s by powerful interest groups who selfishly strong armed the USFS to prohibit bicycles from Wilderness areas.
We believe that following this Region One guideline (policy) is inappropriate for several reasons. First, the Wilderness Act allowed Congress to create Wilderness, not federal agencies. This is a perfect example of the kind of agency overreach that our President is pushing back against. We have written to President Trump, asking that he examine this Region One unwritten policy. Please encourage the USFS to reconsider this policy/guideline at the regional and national level.
Second, there is no process to release these RWA’s back to multiple use management once they are listed as RWA’s. Congress should mandate a specific retirement period for all RWA’s that are not protected by Congress as Wilderness. Please push for a reasonable retirement period.
Third, Region One of the USFS has not been challenged by bicyclists in court concerning this 10 year old unwritten policy (guideline) until now. The Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists have joined with motorized groups to challenge this “policy” in the Bitterroot National Forest. A short summary of the current case status from one of the plaintiffs follows.
“We filed for summary judgement about two or three weeks ago and as part of that I submitted my declaration to demonstrate I had standing. Presumably the case will appear before the judge sometime in the first half of 2018. For what it is worth the lawyer is more confident about this case than others since the Bitterroot NF was especially flagrant in basing their decision based on Region 1 guidance, going as far as copy and pasting in text from the guidance into the EIS and ROD. This makes it appear that the guidance from Region 1 HQ was not guidance but policy. If so that would be a NEPA violation. If we can establish that the guidance is being used as policy it will hopefully make it harder for the Forest Plan to implement their RW restrictions. The lawyer is especially optimistic about getting the trail closures to bikes reversed at least unit the FS redoes a NEPA and closes them again.”
Please stay abreast of this lawsuit and push the USFS to broadly implement any bicycling favorable rulings that may arise from this case.
Finally, the Wilderness groups have far too much sway in Montana’s federal land management policies. For example, three of the MWA’s 26 paid staffers met with GFBC representatives at the beginning of the HLCNF planning process. John Todd, Casey Perkins, and Mark Good, kindly offered to consider supporting continued bicycling in the Snowys provided we support all of thier other RWA recommendations in the HLCNF and if we would oppose the STC’s bill to lift the blanket ban on bicycling in Wilderness areas. “Thanks, but no thanks!” Wilderness advocate’s inappropriately powerful influence on USFS decisions is bad for Montana’s outdoor economy and the health of our forests.
Thank you for pushing back against Wilderness advocates and their proxies in the USFS. The vast majority of Montanans are for multiple use of our National Forests, not more beetle infested, wildfire prone, expensive to manage, elitists only allowed, effective closures of our public lands.