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Home Wild Word BLM Pushes Illegal Motorized Use in Helena's Scratchgravel Hills
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Aug 07 2020

BLM Pushes Illegal Motorized Use in Helena’s Scratchgravel Hills

It plans to build 40 miles of non-motorized trails – and to illegally allow motorized e-bikes on all of them.

Update: August 18, 2020

Due to the large public outcry at the BLM Butte Field Office's environmental assessment and proposed recreation plan for the Scratchgravel Hills, the agency has extended the public comment period until October 6.

As we've seen time and again, when we speak up, we can have a real impact on critical planning processes. Now, please keep the momentum going by adding your voice and submitting a personal comment on the BLM's plan today

Original Post: August 7, 2020

On June 24, the BLM’s Butte Field Office released an environmental assessment (EA) for its proposed recreation plan for the Scratchgravel Hills north of Helena. 

The plan proposes building 40 miles of non-motorized trails across the Scratchgravels, already a popular recreation area.

Building new and sustainable public trails is important. Unfortunately, the field office, with guidance from the BLM and Department of Interior, is pushing this recreational development as cover for this administration’s continuing efforts to expand motorized use on non-motorized trails by illegally reclassifying motorized e-bikes as non-motorized vehicles.

Historically, federal agencies have managed e-bikes as motorized vehicles because they are motorized vehicles. E-bikes, as the name suggests, are powered by pedal-assist electric motors, allowing the bikes to reach 30 miles per hour, weigh up to 50 pounds, and cover far more ground than a traditional mountain bike.

But there’s been a push by the current administration, beginning with an executive order issued by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in 2019, to thwart this common-sense and historical management by reclassifying e-bikes as non-motorized vehicles and creating administrative loopholes that would allow for motorized e-bikes to use non-motorized trails.

Last November, on the heels of Bernhardt’s order, the BLM took steps to allow widespread e-bike use on non-motorized trails in the Pryor Mountains. It was forced to walk back its plans because the public, led by MWA members, spoke out loudly against them on the grounds that allowing widespread e-bike use without careful analysis was antithetical to good land management, would threaten the non-motorized trails hikers, equestrians, and traditional mountain bikers depended on, and was an example of the top-down management being imposed on public lands by the BLM and DOI. 

But in June, Interior doubled down on this policy, and its pattern of governing without regard for public input, by proposing a rule that would change the legal definition of e-bikes to non-motorized, requiring the BLM to treat e-bikes as it would traditional bikes. Though the BLM has yet to finalize this rule, the Butte Field Office is moving forward – illegally – with the Scratchgravels project.

The BLM, it seems, is using the Scratchgravels as a test case to see what it can get away with. That’s why it’s so important that we speak out against this plan.

We’re not going to stand by while federal agencies thwart the law and mismanage our public lands without sufficient input from Montanans.

Tell the BLM that it must respect federal law, its own rules, and the people of Montana in its land management decisions. 

Write a comment to the BLM today

Opportunities for sustainable recreation right in our backyards is something that Montanans of all stripes value. Helena’s extensive trail system is a perfect example of the kinds of public lands and recreational resources communities cherish as part of our outdoor way of life. But this plan, as it's currently presented, is not sustainable, or even legal. 

We have until Aug. 22 to hold the Butte Field Office, the BLM, and the Department of the Interior accountable and demand that they follow existing federal law when it comes to land management and e-bikes. Please make a comment today

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