E-Bikes & Elk: A Bad Combination

A recent story in The Aspen Times (“Traditional cyclists, e-bikers clash over new trail rules across Colorado,” 5/17/20) included some observations from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) State Policy Director, Tim Brass, about his elk hunt last fall. Tim borrowed a friend’s e-bike during the hunt and, not surprisingly, increased the amount of terrain he was able to cover.[1] However, later he reflected on the hunt (in “E-Bikes And The Backcountry,” Spring 2020 Backcountry Journal).

 thumbnail.JPG“A former mountain biker myself … I’ve found myself … pushing back on a seemingly relentless push by some in the mountain bike community for more trail development everywhere,” Tim said. “A growing breadth of scientific evidence is showing that recreational disturbance from mountain bikes and other uses is having a significant negative impact on elk populations in Colorado. Wildlife biologists are sounding alarm bells as wildlife habitat on our public lands is increasingly being fragmented … in some cases leading to population level declines.”[2]

As Tim alludes to, some Colorado elk herds have been collapsing due to the proliferation of outdoor recreation—including mountain bikes and, more recently, e-bikes—on public lands.[3] Unfortunately, a move by the Trump administration (Secretarial Order 3376) will open millions of acres of public land trails to motorized e-bikes, threatening intact fish and wildlife habitat.[4]

Although some bike proponents claim they have no impact on elk, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) big-game manager, Andy Holland, disagrees. He’s been studying elk for nearly 20 years. “It’s important for people who are birders, bikers … or others who feel they have no impact on the resource to understand … Everyone has some impact,” Holland said in the September 2018 issue of American Hunter.[5]

However, some impacts are larger than others, as detailed in a September 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (“Seeking Ground Less Traveled: Elk Responses to Recreation.” Science Findings #219). The data was collected at the USDA Forest Service’s Starkey Experimental Forest and Range near La Grande, Oregon, and shows how motorized and non-motorized types of recreation––all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking––affect elk.[6]

The study results confirmed what scientists suspected––elk avoid not only recreationists but also their trails. Elk intolerance (as indicated by the distances they maintained) was highest for ATV riding, followed by mountain biking. Some people participating in the study reported that they could see elk from the trails. However, telemetry data revealed that the elk that were seen represented a small por­tion of the larger population: most of the elk had retreated far enough to be hidden from view.[7]

Today 98% of the lower 48 states is within one mile of a motorized route.[8] Ninety-two percent of all national forest lands in Colorado lie within one mile of a road and there are over 17,000 miles of roads in Colorado’s national forests.[9] CPW has documented over 33,000 miles of trails in Colorado, and this doesn’t include thousands of miles of low traffic natural surface roads which are perfectly suitable for bike use.[10]

4IMG_7485-o.JPGHunters are increasingly concerned about the impacts of bikes and trails on elk herds. “I had to leave one area due to ATVs. Then the great new area I found was recently designated semi-roadless instead of roadless, meaning mountain biking was allowed. The elk left,” said Bryan Peterson.[11] “I hunted an area for years that always held elk. When they expanded the trails the elk vanished,” added Johnny Rothones.[12] E-bikes will make the problem exponentially worse.

Southern California’s Hi-Power Cycles, for example, is making an e-bike that can hit 55 mph.[13] E-bikes have implications for wildlife, said Land Tawney, BHA president and CEO. The bikes make it easier for people to go deeper into the woods more easily, which has an effect on animals such as deer and elk and their habitat. “E-bikes should be considered just like motorcycles and ATVs,” he added—and kept in zones designated for them.[14]

The CEO of one e-bike company (quoted in The Aspen Times story) even referred to non-bikers as “outdoor elitists.”[15] An interesting characterization, especially during these challenging economic times, considering that his e-bikes can cost up to $6,199 while a pair of hiking boots might go for around $100. For additional information see “E-Bikes And The Backcountry.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (4/23/20): https://www.backcountryhunters.org/e_bikes_and_the_backcountry

David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”[16]

[1] Jason Blevins. “Traditional cyclists, e-bikers clash over new trail rules across Colorado.” The Aspen Times: 5/17/20. https://www.aspentimes.com/news/traditional-cyclists-e-bikers-clash-over-new-trail-rules/

[2] Tim Brass, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers state policy & field operations director. “E-Bikes And The Backcountry.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/23/20. https://www.backcountryhunters.org/e_bikes_and_the_backcountry

[3] Christine Peterson. “Americans' love of hiking has driven elk to the brink, scientists say: Trail use near Vail, Colorado, has more than doubled since 2009. It’s had a devastating impact on a herd of elk.” The Guardian: 8/25/19. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/25/hiking-elk-driven-to-brink-colorado-vail

[4] Editor(s). “E-bikes on public lands directive criticized by sportsmen.” Capital Journal: 9/5/19. https://www.capjournal.com/news/e-bikes-on-public-lands-directive-criticized-by-sportsmen/article_109690ce-d025-11e9-8666-a74a62e540ea.html

[5] Mark Kayser. “Elk On Uneven Ground.” American Hunter: September 2018, p. 50.

[6] Sylvia Kantor. “Seeking Ground Less Traveled: Elk Responses to Recreation.” Science Findings #219 (U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station): September 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi219.pdf

[7] Sylvia Kantor. “Seeking Ground Less Traveled: Elk Responses to Recreation.” Science Findings #219 (U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station): September 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi219.pdf

[8] Montana Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (MT BHA). “MT BHA Testifies for RMF!” MT BHA: 4/26/12.

[9] Aaron Kindle. “Roadless Areas Critical to Fish and Game in Colorado.” High Country Angler: Summer 2011, p. 36.

[10] George Wuerthner. “Impacts of Mountain Biking.” The Wildlife News: 6/18/19. https://www.thewildlifenews.com/2019/06/18/impacts-of-mountain-biking/

[11] https://www.facebook.com/groups/coloradobackcountryhunters/

[12] https://www.facebook.com/groups/coloradobackcountryhunters/

[13] Jason Blevins. “E-bike access riling Colorado public lands users as BLM plans rule to open non-motorized trails.” Colorado Sun: 5/14/20. https://coloradosun.com/2020/05/14/e-bike-access-blm-rule-tiling-public-lands-users/

[14] Christopher Solomon. “E-bikes open recreational opportunity—too much, say some in mountain biking community.” Montana Standard: 10/20/19.

[15] Jason Blevins. “E-bike access riling Colorado public lands users as BLM plans rule to open non-motorized trails.” Colorado Sun: 5/14/20. https://coloradosun.com/2020/05/14/e-bike-access-blm-rule-tiling-public-lands-users/

[16] For additional information see: “David A. Lien Recognized by Field & Stream as ‘Hero of Conservation.’” AmmoLand.com: 7/2/14. http://www.ammoland.com/2014/07/david-a-lien-recognized-by-field-stream-as-a-hero-of-conservation/#

About David Lien

See other posts related to Colorado BHA Colorado Issues Colorado News