Mountain bikers and wilderness groups seek common ground - SNEWS

Mountain bikers and wilderness groups seek common ground

In an unprecedented show of cooperation, leaders in the mountain biking community and prominent wilderness advocates issued a joint statement in December, pledging that they will work more closely with each other.
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In an unprecedented show of cooperation, leaders in the mountain biking community and prominent wilderness advocates issued a joint statement in December, pledging that they will work more closely with each other.

Mountain bike organizations and wilderness advocacy groups have had a tenuous relationship because mountain bikes are not permitted in areas designated as wilderness. Problems between the two groups came to the forefront this summer when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced the California Wild Heritage Act, which would designate 2.5 million acres in California as wilderness.

The joint Statement of Commitments comes on the heels of a series of discussions between the two communities that began in March 2002. “This statement shows that mountain bikers and wilderness advocates are both interested in protecting our natural resources,” said Dan Smuts, the Wilderness Society's assistant regional director for California and Nevada. “This statement of commitment also takes us beyond our typical conversations toward a more collaborative way of dealing with one another.”

A portion of the statement reads: “We commit to early collaboration leading to joint Wilderness/protection proposals where possible. Where not possible, we commit to good faith negotiations and willingness to compromise where feasible.”

In the statement, members of the mountain biking community also declare that they oppose motorized vehicles in wilderness areas. “It visually puts us on the side of the environmental cause. In the past, we were always in the middle, and people never really knew who we were supporting and weren't supporting,” said Duane Strawser a signatory of the agreement, and owner of Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop in Nevada City, Calif., on the edge of the Tahoe National Forest.

While Smuts said that reaction to the statement has been overwhelmingly positive within the mountain biking wilderness conservation communities, there have been opponents.

 â€œA lot of people in our constituency have written us, telling us that we've sold out,” said Gary Sprung of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). “They're wrong because they misinterpret what we're saying. We haven't changed our position about the proper role of bicycling on public lands. All we've done is said we're going to do more talking. IMBA supports preservation of 100 percent of the areas they seek to make wilderness. The issue is not preservation, the issue is the tool used for preservation. The wilderness tool is appropriate many places, but not everywhere.”

SNEWS View: While hardly anything concrete has resulted from the “Action Steps” set forth in the agreement, this is an important first step. Even if the two groups merely “agree to disagree” at this point, increased communication will help to ease the animosity between mountain bikers and wilderness groups and allow them to appear as a more unified voice, which in the long run will be a stronger voice. We'll see whether the two sides hold to the statement's commitments as Sen. Boxer's legislation is re-introduced, and new potential conflicts arise in Colorado. We certainly think it's good that the statement clarified the cycling community's stance regarding motorized vehicles in wilderness. As another positive, the statement has allowed the cycling community to voice loud and clear that this is a large constituency that shares the same overall values as wilderness groups. It's good to have these things in writing. It's sort of like saying "I Love You" -- even if you're always thinking it, sometimes it just has to be said.

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