Read through the July Mountain Gazette last week; their mountain biking theme issue. A few pages after a useful fireworks how-to that describes proper technique for shooting bottle rockets at people, the obligatory land use article caught my eye.
In “The Golden Rule,” author Doug Schnitzspahn covers the Roadless Area Conservation Rule from a bicycle environmentalist perspective.
I found Doug’s take interesting for two reasons. First, he makes it clear that “The Schism” exists between mountain bikers and legal Wilderness. In his words, “as more Wilderness is created, more singletrack is lost.” (Note that here at WildSnow we capitalize the “W” when we refer to legal Wilderness.) Second, this leads him into a short (by Gazette standards) discussion of how lands covered by the Roadless Rule are the “sacred ground of the mountain bike,” BUT, that the “future of these lands will never be safe until they are legally protected by more than a clever rule.”
It’s about time someone on the enviro side said out loud that the Roadless Rule has an element of bogosity. In that vein, Doug concludes that we perhaps need “a complete rethinking of the concept of wild lands.”
While Doug’s “rethinking” appears to involve typical my-recreation-is-holier-than-yours thinking (as in muscle vs motor ), at least he’s busting the issue open.
I’ll take it farther: In my opinion, the Roadless Rule is nothing more than a values construct and political distraction with weird unintended consequences.
Why do I think that? Granted, if the Roadless Rule makes it easier to control damaging development on our public lands, it has an upside. Yet attempting to set land management policy based on road building, and defining land values by the existence or lack of roads, is in my view a simplistic view that has little basis in reality (plenty of wonderful backcountry land has roads nearby). More importantly, the rule actually allows roads and mechanized recreation!
If any proof of that exists, take the rule itself, which is fairly clear in most areas but puffs smoke when it comes to one rather key subject: it fails to adequately define what a road is (and may never be able to do so since it allows mechanized travel).
One important paragraph says it all:
“A trail is established for travel by foot, stock, or trail vehicle, and can be over, or under, 50 inches wide. Nothing in this paragraph as
proposed was intended to prohibit the authorized construction, reconstruction, or maintenance of motorized or non-motorized trails that are classified and managed as trails pursuant to existing statutory and regulatory authority and agency direction.” (from The Rule.)
Did you read that? Yep, “Roadless” areas can have all the motorized travel you want, so long as it’s on a designated “trail,” and in our area at least, only used by ATV’s and their ilk (this is official policy as reported to me by a USFS source). In other words, a “Roadless” area can be overrun by motorcycles and ATV’s so long as they’re on “trails,” while some mellow family futzing around in their Jeep is legally fenced out.
I’ve written here before about how trying to shut out “Jeep” 4×4 recreation from the backcountry has led at least in part to the ATV boom (which I readily acknowledge is in certain areas a scourge of nearly biblical proportions.) So now we have a rule that shuts out regular 4×4 “Jeeps” and allows ATVs on “trails”? Hello, what in the world were you thinking!?
Despite the ranting about how the Roadless Rule is some kind of gift to wilderness preservation and muscle powered recreation, I can’t help but see that it’s not, with a capital N.
As Doug says in the Gazette from his enviro biased yet well reasoned perspective, “Recasting the role of bikes in roadless lands will require…a complete rethinking of the concept of wild lands.”
Ho hum, sounds like what we do here at WildSnow.com on occasion, where we chuck spears at the sacred cow of legal Wilderness, and have long advocated for some sort of “backcountry” designation that controlled development while at the same time blessing recreation. Of course our version includes motorized in the mix. And why is that bad? If the vaunted Roadless Rule allows motorized trails, and the Rule is like holy water to environmentalist folks, then what’s wrong with asking for the same thing, only a version that’s more honest, obviously welcoming of recreation diversity, and less obsessed with roads or lack thereof? In other words, something more than a “clever rule?”
(Note: The ATV manufacturers are not stupid. They’re selling “side by sides” faster than REI sells backpacks. These are nothing more or less than a downsized Jeep, but so long as the side-by-side is 50 inches wide or less it’s allowed on many (if not most) ATV trails. Thus making a mockery of the “Roadless” Rule.)
Have at it commenters! Should we sell our family Jeep and get a side-by-side ATV? Seriously, what’s going on with making a big hoopla of the Roadless Rule, and having it become a way to manage ATV recreation areas? And where do our bicycles fit in?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain. For more about Lou, please see his personal website at https://www.loudawson.com/ (Blogger stats: 5 foot 10 inches (178 cm) tall, 160 lbs (72574.8 grams).