Will the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency write to urge the U.S. Congress not to gut the federal Wilderness Act of 1964? Would Governor Cuomo allow this or encourage it?
Why should these state agencies write to Senators McConnell, Schumer and Gilllibrand to strongly oppose a bill that opens up all federal Wilderness areas to bicycling? Our Adirondack State Land Master Plan echoes the federal Wilderness Act of 1964. Bicycling in Wilderness areas is disallowed in our federal and Adirondack Wilderness (and Primitive, Canoe) areas because bikes are gear-leveraged mechanical transport, a highly complex machine, just not a motorized one. And machines – motorized or not – cancel out the values and benefits of an enduring wilderness, those very rare places where human beings exercise humility and are not allowed to dominate the landscape as we do everywhere else on earth.
The bill now before the Congress – sponsored by U.S. Senators Lee and Hatch of Utah – is artfully called the “Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Act” to mask its true purpose, to mechanize Wilderness and erase the very reasons the federal legislation exists, to preserve natural qualities and processes in wilderness ecosystems where human influences are minimized or non-apparent. Once fat tired bikes are authorized in Wilderness, all manner of other mechanized and then motorized devices will follow, and all manner of “trail maintenance” will be eventually allowed as well. The camel will be in the tent. Americans who treasure the values and experiences of wildness, whether they recreate there or not, or whether they simply wish to know it will remain for their grandchildren to experience, will be the losers.
Will the Chair of the Adirondack Park Agency and Commissioner of Environmental Conservation write to Senators McConnell, Schumer and Gillibrand to oppose this bill?
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan is consciously modeled after the 1964 Wilderness Act. That act bans all types of bicycles as well as all other forms of mechanical transportation in designated Wilderness. Section 4(c) of that act states, “[T]here shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”
Furthermore, the Congress stated the purpose of the Wilderness Act was, in part, to protect these areas from “expanding settlement and growing mechanization…. For over a half century, the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas designated by Congress from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wildernesses have been kept free from bicycles and other types of mechanization and mechanical transport. The “benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness” would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport in these areas.
The same would be true in the Adirondack Park’s Wilderness areas. If the Congress gutted the Wilderness Act, on which the authors of the State Land Master Plan consciously modeled this part of our Executive Law, how long would it take for Governor Cuomo to feel the pressure and ask his agencies to go beyond what they did last winter – amending the State Land Master Plan to allow bicycling in just two Primitive areas (Essex Chain of Lakes and Pine Lake)? How long would it take for a Governor to seek to amend the Master Plan to authorize bicycling in all Primitive Areas and Canoe Areas and in Wilderness areas, also?
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve echoes what Wilderness Watch writes about this federal bill. At a time when wilderness and wildlife are under increasing pressures from human populations, growing mechanization, and a rapidly changing climate, the last thing our Adirondack and national wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines.“Mountain bikes,” wrote George Nickas of Wilderness Watch, “are exactly the kind of mechanical devices and mechanical transport that Congress intended to keep out of Wilderness in passing the Wilderness Act. Mountain bikes have their place, but that place is not inside Wilderness areas.”
This message is precisely what several enthusiastic mountain bikers delivered to the Adirondack Park Agency during hearings in January, 2016. We love to mountain bike, they said, but we also love wilderness. Given all of the thousands of opportunities and environments out there to ride, there is absolutely no reason to open up our rare, precious wilderness to mountain bikes.
Unfortunately, our APA caved into pressure and for the first time in history weakened the State Land Master Plan’s emphasis on wilderness protection by opening Pine Lake and Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive areas not just to bicycling but to motorized maintenance of those bike routes. The APA could have gone much further, but were constrained from doing so – constrained ultimately by what the Master Plan states and the enduring popularity of our “forever wild” clause and areas classified and managed as wilderness in this state. If the Congress opens up our federal Wilderness areas to bicycling, all bets are off for “forever wild” Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe areas.
Governor Cuomo, we ask the NYS Adirondack Park Agency and NYS DEC to write letters in opposition to the “Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Act.” Please issue a press release when they do. New York State should be proud and protective of our wilderness areas (after all, the 1964 Federal Wilderness Act was modeled after New York State’s Article XIV), and clear about the enduring benefits that all Forest Preserve including wilderness areas provide to all of us. Stand up for New York and make us a Wilderness leader once again, Governor. No bikes in Wilderness. In advance, thank you.