Thursday, April 9, 2015

Travel Plan

Dear Madame Supervisor,

I wanted to thank you for you generous offer to let mountain bikes continue to use the gravel roads in the Bitterroot National Forest. There is nothing I enjoy better than being coated in dust while being being buzzed by a jacked up 4x4.  Dodging the beer bottles they throw only adds to the excitement.  I can also thank you for the opportunity to embrace more vibrant sartorial choices.  In the past when having an outstanding primitive recreational experience, you know the ones, close to nature, serene, adventurous, challenging, using all my outdoor skills to manage the risk (FEIS 3.3-24), taking advantage of my "Wild Backyard' "(3.2-6); I had to be conservative in my wardrobe choices.

You may have noticed that some hikers have irrational, unjustified biases against bicycles. They think we destroy trails, they think our bikes and clothing are obnoxious, that we don't show enough respect, we aren't spiritual enough, we go too fast,  that we are all a bunch rampaging Huns determined to lay waste to the backcountry. We both know this stereotype is inaccurate, and though this group is a minority even among hikers, and despite the fact during 10 years of riding Blue Joint, Little Blue Joint, Razorback Ridge, Weasel Creek Fire Creek, Sign Creek, Chain Of Lakes, 313, etc I  have yet to encounter a hiker or a horseman. Still, there was always a chance that I might encounter one of these folks.

Then no matter how transient our encounter,  even if this person had spent the day dancing with wolves, cavorting with bear cubs, and eating the plumpest huckleberries,  I had the potential to utterly destroy the expectations of his wilderness experience. (FEIS 3.2-33, 1.3-2)  Knowing that despite any hysterical overreaction on his part, and despite him carrying GPS, SPOT, bluetooth speakers, iPhone, and Big Agnes tent with built in ambient light, I would be in the wrong since the Forest Service has validated her biases and believes that upsetting her rends the very fabric of the region's wilderness potential (ROD 19.) Now that I don't need to worry about any chance backcountry encounters,  I can finally wear my tight flashy Motley Crew lycra kit, unzip the long front zipper and let my chest hair blow in the breeze.

Now that I'm spending more time sharing gravel roads with logging trucks I'm embracing my family  of contrivances on wheels, tracks, skids, and propelled by a living or nonliving power source (FEIS 3.2-21.) It explains why I subconsciously make buzzing motorcycle sounds whenever I head up Blue Joint to ruin another wilderness experience by clearing the deadfall off the trail.  I have always wondered about those Stellar Jays I see hanging around, I thought they had a Hunger Games look to them, how else to explain how the Forest Service knew I was impacting the social values of wilderness (FEIS 3.3-6 and 3.3-8) through my noise and fumes, aka labored breathing and chorizo breakfast burritos.

I'm saddened to discover that all the time I thought had been a good land steward, doing my best to keep trails in good condition, I have been an unwitting carrier, like a fruit bat with Ebola, and with every rotation of my wheel in some process invisible to me (3.3-7) and unmeasurable to the Forest Service analysts (FEIS any page),  possibly by the wheels changing the vibrational energies of the zircons locked in the bedrock, the intrinsic character of the land is changed and the potential for wilderness is being destroyed.

Even now I'm amazed at how powerful this pathogen is. My tires don't even need to touch the dirt, my thoughts and beliefs destroy the wilderness potential from afar. How is this spooky action at distance even possible? Let me quote you in full, "Additionally, allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress. It is important that when the wilderness recommendations are made to Congress that they be unencumbered with issues that are exclusive to the wilderness allocation decision. Congress is not the appropriate forum in which to debate travel management decisions." (ROD 19) I'm sorry for the headaches I have caused you. I had not understood that exercising my rights as an engaged citizen to advocate for my beliefs was contrary to the congressional mandate to maintain the wilderness potential of these areas.  Henceforth I will strive to eliminate this plague of free expression and civil engagement, which I thought (oops, there I go again) were core values of our republic. I will embark on a program of reeducation, so that I too can think only Forest Service approved thoughts. No longer will I consider other alternatives to preserving the land such as the successful Rattlesnake National Recreational Area, or adding this land  to the National Landscape Conservation System. I will from now on bow before the altar of the Wilderness Designation as the holy grail for preserving the landscape.

My congratulations, I understand that you have been labeled a visionary by the Montana Wilderness Association. It must be true, since visionaries can see past the data to the truth.  You were able to see the necessity of closing 178 miles of the 593 miles of trails open to mountain bikes, despite the fact that you have no data on historic or current use of these trails by mountain bikes or any other users. In  2012 you managed to meet with members of the Quiet Users Coalition regarding a lawsuit settlement over Gallatin Travel plan (ROD 7) that had implications for mountain bike use.  Luckily since visionaries already know the truth they don't need to hear dissenting views, so there was no need for any outreach to the mountain biking community, including the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists who have a volunteer agreement with the Forest Service (3.2-22.)  Despite running over 2000 pages there is nothing concerning what mountain bikers are looking for in trails and their recreational experience.

With your vision you even know how or feelings,  how we "feel that mountain bikes do not physically impact these areas, nor do they have the same impacts as motorized vehicles." (ROD 19) Now it has been around six years since I wrote my comments, but I'm sure I didn't share my feelings, but rather the results of multiple peer reviewed journal articles that demonstrated that we had an impact equivalent to a hiker.  We never claimed to have no impact, only those pure saintly souls who have found the one true way would make such an outlandish claim.

Having a vision isn't always a good thing though. Sometimes you end up being blind to the blatantly obvious.  I understand that you ..." recognize that some types of motorized/mechanical transport may have different physical impacts on the landscape."(ROD 19) Considering that motorized/mechanical transport spans everything from hand carts to logging trucks,(3.2-21) ( I would be happy to share an old physics textbook to refresh you with the basic concepts of mass, force, and velocity. If you are these basic scientific precepts still seem fuzzy, we can do an experiment, I'll run over one your arms or legs with a bike and the other with an F-350 with a camper pulling a trailer of full ATVs. I can probably even manage to get some X-rays done to confirm the different physical impacts.

As I understand it, big changes in how the Forest Service manages things is supposed to follow the NEPA process and perform an EIS. Now I'll admit I'm not an expert at this, as expect the director of the Forest Service might be. But the process as I understand after a bit of googling is to promote informed decision making my making detailed information concerning significant environmental impacts available to the agency and public. It is also supposed to encourage cooperation and communication between all actors, and it should use an interdisciplinary approach so that it accurately assesses both the physical and social impacts of an action.  Maybe before closing the recommended wilderness and WSA to mountain bikes the Bitterroot National Forest should consider something like that.

Maybe cooperate and communicate with the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists.  Survey trail use and actually find out who is on trails and in what numbers. Find out what mountain bikers are looking for in recreational opportunities. Get detailed information on the impacts of mountain bikes on trails and the biota. There are studies.  Get a better feel for the interactions of bikers and other users, a study from trail users in urban Salt Lake City (FEIS 3.2- 33) don't translate well to the Bitterroot. Whatever the Travel Plan was it certainly doesn't qualify as an EIS when it comes the impact of mountain bikes.

Julie, I'm sure you are a great person, but I'm not ready to go with your feelings and visions when it comes to closing one third of the remaining trails in the Bitterroot to mountain bikes, and changing a policy that has worked for 30 years, and caused so little impact that the Forest Service didn't even realize there were mountain bikers in the valley until we decided to do the right thing,  get involved, and made comments to the travel plan.  Maybe I'm cynical, and maybe you do know that mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are orders of magnitude different when it comes to impact, but to admit that would be to admit that the Travel Plan EIS isn't worthy of cleaning my chain and tires of noxious weed seeds to prevent their spread.

Insincerely Yours,


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