By Anthony Cerretani , VeloNews correspondent
After receiving more than 14,000 comments in 30 days, the Bureau of Land Management chose not to group mountain bikes with motorized vehicles in a controversial management plan known as the National Off-Highway Vehicle Strategy.
On December 4, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft of the plan that would ultimately rouse the cycling community to take action against a legislative act that threatened the future of the mountain-biking experience itself. At the heart of the issue was the BLM’s coupling of mountain bikes with other off-highway vehicles, all of which were motorized.
Following the release of the draft, the BLM opened a 30-day comment period wherein submissions were received through both e-mail and hand-written letters. The response was overwhelming with 14,000 comments received within that timeframe, the bulk of which came from various facets of the biking community.
The movement succeeded. In a statement released January 19, the BLM indicated that it had modified the Draft in response to “more than 14,000 comments received during the 30 day comment period.” The BLM modified the draft to accommodate the inherent differences between motorized and non-motorized vehicles, taking into account the different ramifications of each on public land.
Ultimately, human-powered vehicles were completely removed from the draft and the suggestion was put forth that the BLM “develop a separate, comprehensive management strategy for non-motorized vehicles and to consider developing regulations that would focus on such mechanized (human-powered) vehicles.”
Spearheading the movement for the mountain-biking community against the proposal was the International Mountain Biking Association. IMBA released an informative e-mail to its members summarizing the significantly negative elements of the BLM’s legislative proposal as well as a suggested course of action its members should take to thwart the legislation. In addition, executive director Tim Blumenthal hand delivered a letter of complaint to the BLM’s executive offices in Washington, D.C. on January 3.
The letter summarized IMBA’s position, highlighting practical, philosophical and social differences between motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. In addition, IMBA proposed a series of revisions regarding the methodology by which the BLM approached the proposal, drawing on other legislative classifications regarding the concept of what constitutes a “vehicle.” Ultimately, IMBA suggested that the BLM consider revising its draft to accommodate and/or restrict “motorized” versus “non-motorized” vehicles, citing the obvious contrast between the two.
But IMBA was not alone and either was the mountain-biking community. On January 12, The Wilderness Society also submitted a letter of opposition and complaint in regards to the legislation, supporting the mountain- bike community and its stance in regards to the situation. In a detailed and expressive letter to Sylvia Baca, Acting Director of the BLM, President William H. Meadows of the Wilderness Society indicated that it shared IMBA’s stance on the classification of mountain-bikes.
Meadows urged “the BLM to acknowledge the differences between motorized vehicles and human-powered ones in their physical impact to trails, the noise and disruption they cause, and the conflicts they create among users.”
The Wilderness Society’s involvement in the battle was significant. Not only did it offer an environmentally reputable perspective, it also provided one that was not grounded strictly within the biking community, allowing for a multifaceted perspective on the issue. Ultimately, the Wilderness Society advocated active participation in public land, putting forth the notion that public parks and protected areas are meant to be experienced as well and perceived.
IMBA’s reaction was one of complete elation. “The success of our effort proves that mountain-bikers are a powerful group whose opinions can shape national policy,” said Blumenthal. “This is a milestone for mountain-biking.”