Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said his legislation to allow bikes in wilderness areas is nothing more than modernizing the original intent of the decades-old Wilderness Act.

“People who enjoy mountain biking have just as much a right to use the public trails as those who enjoy hiking or riding, and our wilderness areas were never intended by Congress to prohibit mountain bikes,” McClintock said yesterday.

H.R. 1349 would amend the Wilderness Act to allow bicycles, strollers, game carts, motorized wheelchairs and other devices in any wilderness area.

McClintock, who leads the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, had to defend the bill from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), the ranking member.

Hanabusa said bikes are prohibited “not without reason” but because inexperienced cyclists on the trails could be a danger to horseback riders and hikers.

Kevin Proescholdt, conservation director of Wilderness Watch, not only opposed the measure but was angered about the process by which the hearing took place.

“Not a single person or organization supporting Wilderness was allowed to testify,” Proescholdt said in a statement.

More than 100 conservation and wilderness organizations wrote a letter to oppose the bill this week, calling it an “assault on the very idea of Wilderness and the values of the Wilderness Act.”

But Ted Stroll, president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition, supports the legislation. He said bicyclists, himself included, have been ousted from trails they have ridden for decades because of expanded wilderness areas.

Stroll said allowing bicyclists could also have an unintended benefit: pushing out illegal pot production in wilderness areas. The cyclists could “chase out the marijuana growers” along some of California’s least-used trails, he said.

The subcommittee also discussed H.R. 3371, sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), to give Modoc County in California an obsolete Over-the-Horizon Backscatter radar system receiving station currently owned by the Air Force and Forest Service for economic development of the site.

Elizabeth Cavasso of the Modoc County Board of Supervisors said creating a biomass power generation facility could help the Modoc National Forest remove juniper trees, which would promote sage grouse habitat. The juniper is being thinned out, but it must be left on the ground because there isn’t a nearby facility to take it to, she said.

Associate Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Glenn Casamassa testified the service has concerns over a section of the bill that could nullify existing permit conditions regarding environmental remediations.

The subcommittee heard testimony on two other bills:

  • H.R. 805, from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to give the city of Tulare, Calif., the title to plots of land to improve an outdoor recreation facility and a historic women’s club on the sites.
  • H.R. 3961, from Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), to allow segments of the Kissimmee River and its tributaries in Florida to be studied for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.