September 13, 2019 – The Tahoe National Forest recently permitted “Class 1” electric mountain bikes (E-MTBs) on over 130 miles of trails that had been reserved for hiking and other non-motorized uses. This, despite the fact that Tahoe already has some 2,500 miles of trails and roads available for motorized uses. The decision came on the heels of a recent ill-informed change in Interior Department policy, allowing electric bicycles on non-motorized trails.

Several groups recently signed onto a letter asking the Tahoe National Forest to reverse its decision to allow electric mountain bikes on non-motorized trails.

The groups protesting the rules change include The Wilderness Society, Gold Country Trails Council, Back Country Horsemen of America, Forest Issues Group, and Backcountry Horsemen of California, including its Mother Lode Unit. In a letter to the Tahoe Forest Supervisor, the groups document how the Tahoe’s decision undermines “long-standing travel management laws and policies that help ensure higher quality recreation experiences for both motorized and non-motorized users, prevent avoidable resource damage, alleviate public safety concerns and conflicts between users….” Prior to opening non-motorized trails to motorized E-MTB use, the letter states, the Tahoe should have followed the required travel management planning procedure, which is a public process that includes analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Sometimes called the Magna Carta of conservation law, NEPA requires environmental analysis and public participation in federal decisions that affect public lands.

“These abrupt changes under the Trump administration violate long-standing law and public trust,” said Alison Flint, Wilderness Society Litigation and Agency Policy Director. “We will not hesitate to fight this dangerous trend, which favors wider abuse and degradation of our remaining wild public lands while again tipping the scale to enrich an industry that’s pushing for the motorization of America’s public lands. While there are ample places for e-bikes on public lands, non-motorized trails are not one of them.”

Non-motorized trails ensure safety and conservation on public lands 

This is not a campaign against e-bikes. But the Department of the Interior has a responsibility to respect the different types of recreation and users on our public lands, since there are vast areas already available for different uses.  Growing demands for all types of recreation has created pressure to open more lands to motorized recreation at the expense of non-motorized uses. This would be unfair. We can’t afford to motorize the nation’s remaining wild, quiet places. Until very recently, public lands have been open to motorized recreation by default. The agencies have worked hard to define the appropriate balance, informed by public input and environmental analysis. However, there is still an immense amount of public lands that are open to motorized uses, and so the pressure for more is unreasonable. Also, redefining non-motorized trails as acceptable places for motorized recreation, including e-bikes, sets a bad precedent that could lead to further loss of the land’s natural features, which are essential to preserving the health of our forests and wildlife.