Forest managers: Illegal mountain biking a problem in new Wilderness areas

BOISE - Less than two weeks after President Obama signed into law a bill protecting 275,000 acres in central Idaho's Boulder and White Cloud mountains, the U.S. Forest Service has already begun to make some changes to the new Wilderness areas.

Maps are being posted at trail heads showing the boundaries of the of Wilderness and new boundary signs will go up soon. Longer term, managers will begin work on a Wilderness Management Plan.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act was the result of a decades-long effort led by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. After years of failed efforts, the ultimate compromise bill overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House and U.S. Senate earlier this month.

MORE: Boulder-White Clouds: 'Idaho solution' comes to fruition

A Wilderness designation prohibits the use of motorized vehicles and other forms of mechanized transport, including mountain bikes.

In an editorial released Wednesday, Kit Mullen, supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest and Chuck Mark, supervisor of the Salmon-Challis National Forest lauded the passage of the bill, but also acknowledged that they are already facing challenges from those opposed to the Wilderness designation.

The editorial points to continuing problems with illegal mountain biking in the now off-limit areas.

"Like many laws of this nation that require a healthy component of voluntary compliance, we rely on people honoring the law and integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System," Mullen and Marks said. "Without voluntary compliance with wilderness regulations we risk loss of the very character and values that draw us to such extraordinary places."

The forest supervisors go on to say that an important part of gaining compliance will be public education as a way to build understanding and support. And, while enforcement of the rules is a last option, it may be necessary "for willful or knowing violations."

Mullen and Mark point out that the Wilderness designation does not mean putting up fences around the protected lands.

"They are public lands where people and wildlife are free to come and go, and do in great numbers."

Here is the full editorial:

 

Like many Idahoans, we felt proud to see some of our fellow residents in the White House as President Obama signed legislation creating three new Wilderness areas in this state. Led by Representative Mike Simpson, our entire Congressional delegation supported the new Wilderness designations for the White Clouds, the Boulder Mountains, and Jerry Peak, which passed both chambers of the US Congress with no dissenting votes.

Now with the law enacted, the Forest Service will manage these lands in accordance with the Wilderness Act.

It is no surprise that the Idaho consensus is not unanimous, as some mountain biking groups opposed the legislation. While we should respect one another's views and opinions, it is troubling that despite the recent Congressional and Presidential action we are seeing instances where illegal mountain bike use is occurring in newly designated Wilderness.

Since the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act was signed into law, the Salmon-Challis National Forest and Sawtooth National Forest are moving forward with the first steps to manage the areas as Wilderness. We are posting maps showing the boundaries of the Wilderness areas at trail heads and bulletin boards. We will begin putting up boundary signs, starting with the heaviest use areas. Longer term, we will develop a Wilderness Management Plan.

Unless otherwise authorized, Wilderness areas prohibit the use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, landing of aircraft, and other forms of mechanical transport. This means motorcycles and other off-highway vehicles, mountain bikes, snowmobiles in winter, game carts and unmanned aircraft systems (drones) are not allowed in these areas.

Like many laws of this nation that require a healthy component of voluntary compliance, we rely on people honoring the law and integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Without voluntary compliance with wilderness regulations we risk loss of the very character and values that draw us to such extraordinary places. To help people enjoy the new Wilderness areas as envisioned, we will continue providing information and public education that build knowledge, understanding and support. Protecting Wilderness character and enjoyment depends on people honoring the rules of use. Enforcement of the rules is by no means our first choice, but it may be necessary for willful or knowing violations.

Designating Wilderness areas does not mean we will be putting up gates and fences around these lands. They are public lands where people and wildlife are free to come and go, and do in great numbers. When enjoying these newly-designated Wilderness areas it may be useful to recall some of the words of the 1964 Wilderness Act: " an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain … land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and … has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation."

We salute Representative Simpson for his years of dedication. He gave his best effort to accommodate all uses and still protect the substantial core of the White Clouds, Boulders and Jerry Peak. As supervisors of the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Sawtooth National Forest we are dedicated to the values and benefits of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and we continue to manage hundreds of miles of forest roads and trails open to motorized travel and mountain biking uses. In caring for the land and serving people we look forward to a future where we all enjoy these lands in the manner Congress intended and as designed by the sponsors of the legislation.

Kit Mullen is the Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest and Chuck Mark is the Supervisor of the Salmon-Challis National Forest.


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