By Arie Mielkus
Utah Senators Mike Lee and Orrin G. Hatch recently introduced Senate Bill 3205 that would allow biking in wilderness areas. The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act was met with a mix of concern and support.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 banned mechanized travel in wilderness areas. The purpose of the Act was to ensure the growing population of the US did not leave its citizens’ without preserved areas in their natural condition. Additionally, the Act addressed concerns about the increase of mechanized forms of travel, and the need to set aside lands for solitude. To address these concerns, and others, mechanized travel was banned on lands designated as Wilderness.
The Bill would require the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture to authorize local officials to decide if non-motorized forms of recreation should be permitted in their jurisdictions. A decision is required within 2 years of the Bill’s enactment; failure to make a decision results in the Wilderness area being opened to non-motorized recreation. It remains unclear what factors would be considered in this determination, but the Bill states the decision shall “accommodate all forms of non-motorized transportation, to the maximum extent practicable.” The Bill also includes a section on maintenance, proposing motorized trail access to amend the current Wilderness Act, by allowing “small-scale motorized equipment” (such as chainsaws and wheelbarrows) to maintain trails. “Small-scale motorized equipment” is not defined by the Bill.
There is concern that the Bill supports a public land seizure. Utah and other Western States have been the site of efforts to transfer federal public lands to state control. Most recently in 2014 a Utah State Senate measure became effective, requiring the US to “extinguish title” to public lands and transfer title of the lands to the State of Utah. A spokesperson for Senator Mike Lee says that this is just a “cuckoo conspiracy theory,” emphasizing the Bill’s goals “to open up more public lands for enjoyment by Americans.”
Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), a non-profit that supports human powered travel in wilderness areas to ensure trails can be enjoyed by all, supports the Bill. The group’s website states the bill is narrowly written, with no hidden agenda. Additionally, STC claims local land managers are empowered with making the determination if biking on trails is allowed, based on “current usages, the sources available for trail maintenance, and the possibility of repairing a neglected trail.”
The Bill was referred to committee on July 13, 2016. Govtrack.us, a website that tracks bills, gives Senate Bill 3205 a fourteen percent chance of making it out of committee and ultimately being passed. The site lists several factors for this prognosis including: (1) The Bill’s sponsor, Mike Lee, is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee to which it was referred; (2) Sponsor Mike Lee is a member of Republican party, the majority party in the Senate; and (3) Co-Sponsor Orrin Hatch is high within the leadership of the Republican party.
 The Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C §1133 (2014).
 S. 3205, 114th Cong. 2016.
 H.B 148, 2012 Gen. Sess. (Utah 212).
 New York Times, Bill Opening Wilderness Areas to Bikes Also Opens Debate, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/us/bill-opening-wilderness-areas-to-bikes-also-opens-debate.html?_r=0 (last visited Sept. 13, 2016).
 Sustainable Trails Coalition, FAQ/Resources, http://www.sustainabletrailscoalition.org/resources/#faq (last visited Sept. 13, 2016).