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Home Wild Word BLM Moves Towards Allowing Motorized E-Bikes on Non-Motorized Trails
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
May 26 2020

BLM Moves Towards Allowing Motorized E-Bikes on Non-Motorized Trails

A proposed rule threatens thousands of miles of historic hiking, hunting, and equestrian trails

While people and communities around the country are struggling to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19, the Department of the Interior under the Trump administration continues to use the pandemic as cover for advancing top-down and one-sided plans for our public lands.

Among its recent moves is a push to formalize a poorly conceived policy that would pave the way to allow motorized mountain bikes, or e-bikes, on traditionally non-motorized BLM trails.

Allowing Motorized E-Bikes on Non-Motorized Trails

You might remember that back in August, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt released a secretarial order instructing all divisions within the Department of the Interior to begin the process of reclassifying motorized e-bikes as non-motorized forms of recreation. You might also remember that, in December, we held the Billings BLM Field Office accountable for proposing a travel plan for the Pryor Mountains that cut the public out of the planning process and failed to properly analyze the impacts of e-bikes on the Pryors’ sensitive ecosystems and historic trails, many of which have been treasured by hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians for years.

Reclassifying motorized e-bikes as non-motorized recreation would have massive repercussions for the 245 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM. E-bikes are heavier (up to 50 pounds) and can travel significantly faster than traditional mountain bikes (up to 30 miles per hour), which hastens erosion and trail degradation. They can also travel much further than traditional mountain bikes, which can lead to increased wildlife flight in traditionally remote areas. 

The administration’s push towards widespread e-bike use also shows a troubling, but not surprising, disregard for responsible and consistent decision making. From the start, the proposed rule flips precedent on its head by requiring that BLM field offices treat e-bikes as they would human-powered bikes. From the get-go, the rule tilts the scales in favor of allowing e-bikes on all trails open to human-powered bikes. Then, in a bizarre twist, it would be up to each field office to determine if it should exclude e-bikes from traditionally non-motorized trails.

How Would the New Rule Work?

At least the DOI has given BLM field offices clear guidance about where e-bikes should be excluded, right? Not quite. 

Because the DOI is bending over backwards to allow e-bikes on non-motorized trails wherever possible, it has given no clear instructions to field offices about what is and is not appropriate e-bike use. And since the proposed rule tilts the playing field in favor of allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, the field offices have no clear criteria to follow in deciding whether to exclude e-bikes from non-motorized trails. Accordingly, thousands of miles of non-motorized hiking, biking, and equestrian trails are at risk of becoming motorized.

This kind of backwards decision making has worrying implications for future travel management plans and threatens decades of hard work to designate quality non-motorized trail opportunities across the West.

What You Can Do

It’s important that we tell the BLM just why this proposed rule is such a bad idea. 

Please take five minutes to urge the BLM to leave our non-motorized trails non-motorized. We have only until June 9, and you can only comment on the comment page linked in this blog. You cannot separately email the BLM, write them a hard copy letter, or leave a voicemail somewhere. Here is some language you can use to quickly make your voice heard.

Talking points to use in your comment
  • E-bikes are currently allowed on the majority of roads and trails on BLM lands across the country. The BLM already has the tools it needs to open new or existing trails to e-bike use.
  • E-bikes are an appropriate way to explore public lands via motorized routes but do not have a place on quiet, non-motorized trails
  • E-bikes are motorized by definition. Classifying them as non-motorized is inconsistent with existing laws and policies and would undermine years of hard work that has gone into planning, funding, and constructing our non-motorized trail networks.
  • Increased e-bike use in previously non-motorized areas would result in safety concerns and increased conflicts between trail users, as well as impacts to big-game species, grizzly bears, and other wildlife. The BLM must analyze those and other impacts of its proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act before opening all of its non-motorized trails to motors.

Opening all non-motorized trails on BLM land to motorized e-bikes could damage sensitive ecosystems, harm wildlife, degrade trail surfaces, and lead to safety hazards and user conflict. Instead of taking unprecedented steps toward opening all trails to motorized use, the BLM needs to perform careful analyses of specific trails and make careful, informed decisions about what uses are appropriate on specific trails. 

We only have until June 9 to submit comments, and the only way to comment is through this link.

To learn more about how to write an effective comment, see out this suggested comment or get in touch with me at abertram@wildmontana.org. 

Aubrey Bertram
Eastern Montana Field Director

Aubrey works with communities to protect eastern Montana’s prairies, badlands, and island mountain ranges. She spends her time skiing, hiking, and running, volunteering with civic organizations in Billings, exploring public lands with her two dogs, and napping on the couch with her two cats.
Email Aubrey