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Sooooooooo, busted!

by GEORGE WUERTHNER on DECEMBER 11, 2018

Recently the Helena National Forest released a scoping letter on a proposal to create 39 miles of mountain biking (aka thrill biker) trails in the Strawberry Butte area of the northern Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/110309_FSPLT3_4486872.pdf

In its scoping letter, the FS notes that “Since 2001, the Forest has observed an increase in recreational use within the project area. This increase in use has resulted in a proliferation of user created trails, some of which intrude into riparian areas and other important wildlife areas. These resource concerns have lead us to take action to address impacts in this area.”

The Scoping Letter goes on to note “The purpose of the project is to enhance non-motorized trail opportunities in the front country and reduce the potential for development of user-created routes into the backcountry of the Elkhorn Mountains.” In other words, the FS hopes that by legalizing some Thrill biker created trails, it will preclude continued development of more illegal trails.

Indeed, the FS scoping letters admits that some of the illicit trails thrill bikers have commandeered include game trails. If game trails become thrill bike trails, where does the wildlife go? The fact is that the wildlife does not have anyplace else to go. We already use a disproportionate amount of the landscape. The purpose of the Elkhorn “Wildlife Management” designation was to put wildlife first, and other uses second. Unfortunately, this capitulation to thrill bikes makes recreation the priority.

However, thrill bikers also displace hikers. This is not unlike the social displacement that occurs when snowmobiles use the same trails as xc skiers. Heavy use by mechanical users like thrill bikers tend to displace hikers and horse people from trails they have used for decades.

That is why any new or increased use by bikes must be given serious evaluation of the impacts on other public values. That is not to suggest there are not some areas appropriate for biking, but the Elkhorns are not one of them.

The Elkhorns were originally proposed as wilderness but bowing to political pressure to reduce wilderness acreage in several wilderness bills, the Elkhorns were instead given a special designation as a wildlife management area. Wilderness classification preclude bikes, but wildlife management area does not—a lesson that conservation groups have failed to appreciate as they advocate other “alternative designations” to wilderness like wildlife management areas for places like the Gallatin Range.

As with the Elkhorns even if an alternative management scheme is done with the best intentions, one has to rely upon institutional memory and the good graces of managers. Wilderness designation is the gold standard that provides permanent and legal protection that is time tested.

One of the characteristics of many thrill bikers is an outlaw mentality. As noted in its scoping letter, Thrill bikers regularly flout the law creating illegal trails throughout our public lands without any input or oversight of land management agencies. These rogue actors create trails willy nilly without regard to impacts on wildlife, watersheds, spread of weeds, and other conservation values.

With the development of electric thrill bikes, the ability to impact even more of the land will increase since previously remote areas will be accessible to thrill bikers.

In reaction to the proliferation of illegal trails in the Elkhorns, the forest service is now going to make many of these trails “legal”. That is a common agency response which thrill bikers depend upon to legalize their outlaw actions.

While I can understand the desire of the FS to manage some of these uses by formally legalizing the existence of rogue trails, hoping this will preclude more illegal trail construction, the policy of accommodating outlaws, only begets more outlaw activity.

Imagine if the MDFWP in response to rampant poaching of deer, merely increased the areas open to deer hunting and increased the number of deer that one could legally take? That is what the FS is essentially doing by legalizing the criminal trail building.

Mind you this is a situation unique to thrill bikers throughout the country. You don’t find bird watchers, wildflower enthusiasts, hikers or other public lands users going out and creating new trails without permission or oversight, but it is very common among the thrill biker crowd.

Another common ploy is to publish these illegal trails on apps for phones that advertises their location, creating more constituents for the trails.

The FS is proposing to use a categorical exclusion to legalize the 39 miles of trails. That is, they are not going to analyze the cumulative impact of creating miles of new trails and an increase in thrill bike use effects on wildlife. What is the cumulative impact on wildlife from the existing trail system combined with 39 additional miles of trails? The FS isn’t analyzing this.

In addition, what about the aforementioned social conflict of increased use of existing trails by thrill bikers? Will this cause hikers to abandon these trails?

And what about the increased road traffic into what is now a relatively lightly used area of the Elkhorns. How will that affect wildlife?

My organization, Mountain bikers for Wilderness, is the only biking group that puts conservation ahead of recreation and is strongly opposed to the FS plan to expand thrill biking in the Elkhorns.

You can look long and hard at thrill biker web sites to find a mention of the word conservation or preservation of wildlife or wildlands. The common mantra is we “need” more trails. More. More. More. Thrill bikers (aka mountain bikers) are now the greatest threat to many wildlands across the West. As a group, the word self-restraint is not part of their vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the creation of new trails and increase in thrill biking on existing trails has many impacts that federal and state agencies ignore.

For instance, any number of studies have shown that elk and other wildlife flee from thrill bikers at far greater distance than hikers. One study found: “Probability of a flight response declined most rapidly during hiking, with little effect when hikers were beyond 550 yards from an elk. By contrast, higher probabilities of elk flight continued beyond 1,640 yards from mountain bike and ATV rider.” “Higher probabilities of (elk) flight response occurred during ATV and mountain bike activity, in contrast to lower probabilities observed during hiking and horseback riding.”

Given that you can cover many more miles on a thrill bike than walking, the ecological impacts on wildlife from a single thrill biker is far greater than the effect of a hiker. This is something the Forest Service is ignoring—in a wildlife management area!

The increasing use of “snow bikes” also means this area could see increasing use in winter months, and again because of the distances that can be traveled, thrill bikes may have far greater impacts on wildlife at the time when they are most vulnerable to stress.

These are questions the FS is avoiding by use of the Categorical Exclusion. But it goes beyond this one area, thrill bikers are absconding numerous trails around Helena, and creating new rogue trails so that there are virtually no bike free areas.

Worse by legalizing illicit trail creation, these agencies reward the outlaws. What the FS should do is ban all use of any trails that have not explicitly been evaluated for the impact of thrill biking on wildlife, vegetation, watersheds, and as well as existing users.

And to the degree possible, thrill bike use should be separated from other non-mechanical use like hiking and horseback riding just as snowmobile use is often segregated from xc skiers.

What the Elkhorns need is a comprehensive plan for the entire range. Thrill biking is a growing issue throughout the range.

You can submit comments to [email protected].

The subject line must contain “Strawberry Butte Front Country Trail Management Project.”
Elkhorn Wildlife Area MT threatened by thrill bikers | The Wildlife News
 

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Cycologist
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Mind you this is a situation unique to thrill bikers throughout the country. You don’t find bird watchers, wildflower enthusiasts, hikers or other public lands users going out and creating new trails without permission or oversight, but it is very common among the thrill biker crowd.
You've got to be kidding me. Has he not ever heard the term "social trails"? Has he not ever hiked near a river where there are unofficial trails that go along the banks or in areas that back up to neighborhoods?

Pro tip: If you are writing a piece to try to influence people to your viewpoint, don't scream your bias out by substituting obviously exaggerated terms for your opponents. It weakens your argument and makes it obvious that you are not open to a civilized discussion. And I see that he is using ebikes to strengthen his argument that they will allow people to travel further and do more damage.
 

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It’s okay guys, he is talking about “thrill bikers”, whatever that is. We just mountain bike so are therefore not in scope of his rant ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Follow the $, then look in the mirror. From comments section of article...

It has become a mind set with the both the sports hardware manufacturers and public land managers that areas should be created to allow increased access to assist in creating a demand to sell more recreational hardware and to allow people to vent their frustration through fantasies about “breaking” a new frontier.
 

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WillWorkForTrail
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I don't know what a thrill biker is, never heard of one. In addition to using made up terms for something I don't really understand, it's clear they've never actually been on a trail of any type, whether a dedicated MTB trail, or one used for horses or hikers or all of the above. I've rarely been on a trail in the woods, even when it's less than 100 acres located in the middle of a city, that didn't have significant deer usage of every manmade trail, which is easily identifiable by tracks left in the trail. It's also clear that they've never seen the difference in reactions deer have to seeing a person walking vs seeing a person on a bike.

In the future, I'm going to save myself the trouble of being exposed to this sort of stupidity by not clicking on anything this user posts.
 

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since 4/10/2009
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In the future, I'm going to save myself the trouble of being exposed to this sort of stupidity by not clicking on anything this user posts.
good plan. all he ever posts are links to left wing nutjob websites, anyway. I'm amazed he's not banned yet.
 

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Having a degree or a short bio on your webpage does not make you a nutjob. It also doesn't validate their opinions.

This is backcountry bigotry. It's not like bikers or bike manufacturers are any different than ski/hike/tack manufacturers and people who choose to go into the backcountry in those ways.
 

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Cycologist
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I think most of us here are very much nature lovers and all for conservation. But that article was off the deep end with the "thrill bikers" and how hikers never cause any harm. Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of mountain bikers who make illegal trails. But it seems like a lot of damage is done by hikers, the goblin topplers and that so called artist who was spray painting really crap "art" at National Parks come to mind. It's hard to carve your initials into a Beech tree when you're going past it at 8 mph. And someone (Crankout?) posted in another thread how the rangers in his area liked having mountain bikers night riding as it helped keep the nefarious types at bay.
 

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I can't wait to thrill bike tomorrow morning. If it's anything like riding my Mountain bike I'm gonna effing love it.

Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk
 

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beater
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I live in Helena. I know these trails and the local issues. I also understand the NEPA process. The author fails on all those counts.

Subdivisions surrounding this area frequently have elk grazing in lawns. The only human activity that really impacts big game is recreational killing.
 

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If you want to compare which user group tends to stay on designated trails, and which doesn't, toggle between pedestrians and bikers on the Strava Global Heat map. It's been enlightening to my local pro hiker/less biker friends.
 

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Georgie the thrill biker... and thrill slider. How in God's good Earth does this man justify the habitat destruction and wild life disruption of the ski resorts that he shreds at?


gw bike.jpg

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Georgie's son is a knuckle-dragger:

gws kid.jpg
 

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beater
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This chucklehead seriously misrepresents the situation on the ground and the USFS project in order to pound his chest and proclaim the superiority of his choices.

The USFS proposal is for multi-use trails, not MTB trials. His entire post is based on a deliberate lie.

Further, the existing routes have been there for decades. They’re old roads, cattle trails, and the like. The amount of deliberate singletrack construction here is very small. They’re used and (illegally, since they’re not system) maintained by a broad spectrum of locals- many of whom are on foot or horses.

Going on about wilderness values is nonsense. The area is surrounded by roads, and near I-15. It’s also surrounded by subdivisions and prime subdividable land. The existing situation of widely used nonsystem trails needs to change. The proposal actually cuts the existing trail mileage by about half, and relocates some routes from sensitive areas. It provides public access to some parts of the forest that are locked up by people with large inholdings who have created their own routes and private hunting reserves on public land. It’s a win for all users and the resource, but reactionaries gotta react.

Get bent, George.
 

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Love how he compares wildlife response to ATV and Bike as the same. If that the case how come so many hikers are "startled" when casually come up behind them and say "hello".
 

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The research on flight response to different modes of recreation has a major flaw- it doesn’t control for hunting. Everyone points to Wisdom et al.’s work in the Starkey Experimental Forest where they made transects through an elk herd with different modes of travel. But that is a hunted population, and it’s much more vigilant WRT humans than an unhunted population. Everyone who’s visited Yellowstone NP has seen that unhunted elk really don’t GAF about humans.

Linkage of flight response to negative impacts seems pretty speculative. Big game species adapt to humans pretty easily. During hunting season they hang out on private land where they know they won’t get shot. And as I mentioned- the subdivisions in the Elkhorn foothills have lots of elk in them. There are plenty of places with issues from urban wildlife. Here in Helena, the city culls several hundred mule deer in the winter. A friend in Jackson was recently telling us about moose chasing his kid on the way home from school. But you don’t need research to know that hunting causes elk/deer mortality.

The hand-wringing about wildlife is almost always really about big game species. It’s becoming a joke locally when hunting or horseback groups raise wildlife concerns. “You mean the pileated woodpecker, right?” It’s way past time for the conversation to recognize that hunting is recreation, and that how easy it is to find elk and deer on public land during our 5-week rifle season is not an ecology issue.

What’s ironic about this stupid screed over “thrill bikers” is that our group and others have recommended slow trails by design, and that seems consistent with the USFS project. Trails that use the landscape to encourage slower exploration rather than long sustained grades and long sightlines, which encourage speed. This trail network would lend itself to slower meandering through a lower-angle foothills landscape. Which ironically seems to be the kind of riding that he’s so proud to claim is superior to “thrill biking.”
 
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