It’s being sold as an innocuous proposal to give a little more access to the elderly and disabled. But make no mistake: A Trump administration plan to allow electric-assisted bicycles on national park and Bureau of Land Management trails where they are currently banned is a sea-change in land management policy with far-reaching implications.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently signed an order that classifies so-called e-bikes as non-motorized for purposes of trail use in parks and other public lands administered by the department. The order gives agency officials 30 days to formulate a plan for implementing the new rule.

Public lands managers devote a great deal of time and resources developing travel regulations aimed at minimizing conflicts between different trail users and impacts on terrain and wildlife. Those regulations often ban the use of motorized vehicles for good reason. And e-bikes are motorized vehicles. Just saying that they’re not doesn’t change that fact. Sales have been booming for these bikes, and allowing them on trails where are currently barred will fundamentally change the experience on those trails with potential harm to wildlife.

To appreciate the implications of this order, one need only recall the history of snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park. When they were first allowed, only a few, low-powered sleds entered the park. But over time, that ballooned into hundreds of more powerful machines that wandered off established roads, polluted the air and endangered wildlife. Getting park winter use under control was a painful and controversial process. Allowing motorized bikes on trails will likely lead to similar problems.

The Interior Department order doesn’t apply to Forest Service lands, which are administered by the Department of Agriculture. But with the precedent established, could a similar order for national forest trails be far behind?

The National Park Service has issued a statement saying public comment will be sought about the rule change. It’s not clear whether there will be a formal process for this or for comments about e-bike use on BLM land.

This is a case where those making these decisions need to hear from you – those who value their parks and public lands. Call Park Service and Bureau of Land Management officials and let them know what you think about allowing motorized bikes where they have long been banned.

And don’t buy the notion this is some kind of benign proposal. It could be the beginning of something with long-term, harmful consequences.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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