- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2017

House Republicans put the brakes on the federal bureaucracy Wednesday by advancing a bill to allow bicycles and wheelchairs in federal wilderness areas for the first time in 40 years.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved on a 22-18 vote H.R. 1349, which amends the Wilderness Act to allow for non-motorized vehicles, including bikes and wheelchairs, as well as motorized wheelchairs.

Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said bicycles were originally permitted under the Wilderness Act of 1964 until 1977, “when federal bureaucrats began adopting blanket prohibitions against their use, closing Wilderness areas that are now equivalent to the entire land area of California.”

“Bicycles peacefully co-exist with backpacking, hiking, horseback riding and packing on any other public lands — and they did for many years in Wilderness areas,” said Mr. McClintock, the bill’s sponsor. “It is ludicrous to suggest that they are only incompatible in Wilderness areas — and then only since 1977.”

The legislation, which now goes to the House floor, also allows other forms of “human locomotion,” including wheelbarrows and strollers, in the nation’s 110 million acres of designated wilderness.

“Specifically, this bill will restore the original intent of the Wilderness Act to allow bicycles in wilderness areas,” Mr. McClintock said. “People who enjoy mountain biking have just as much right to use the public trails as those who enjoy hiking, packing or horseback riding, and our wilderness areas were never intended by Congress to prohibit human-powered mountain bikes.”

The bill lifts the outright ban and gives federal land managers discretion to decide whether non-motorized bikes, cycles, strollers and game-carts are appropriate in particular areas.

Even so, the legislation has met with opposition from some environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society, which called it “dangerous” and “yet another assault on our nation’s public lands.”

“There are far better ways to improve access to trails and the backcountry for mountain bicycles,” said Wilderness Society senior director Michael Carroll in a statement. “Unfortunately, this bill does little to improve access and will only result in further dividing trail users. It’s bad for public lands and wilderness, bad for outdoor recreationists and bad for mountain bicyclists.”

Rejecting that argument was the Sustainable Trails Coalition, which said the bill “places backcountry cyclists on an equal footing with campers, hikers, hunters and equestrians.”

“Rather, the legislation is exposing and isolating a combination of moneyed interests and Wilderness purists who have adopted Wilderness as a revenue source or a temperance movement respectively,” the coalition said in a statement.

Even a sponsor of the Wilderness Act, former Sen. Frank Church, Idaho Democrat, complained at one point that ” the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed.”

Mr. McClintock cited the Yosemite Charter, which says that public lands are set aside for “public use, resort and recreation.”

“This bill restores this principle for America’s mountain bikers on our public lands,” he said.

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