Montana BHA comments on BLM E-Bikes Proposal

June 9, 2020

 

The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

PO Box 9257
Missoula, MT 59807

 

Andy Tenney, Division Chief, Division of Recreation and Visitor Services

Bureau of Land Management

20 M Street SE

Washington, DC 20003

 

Re: Increasing Recreational Opportunities through the Use of Electric Bikes

 

The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers would like to provide the following comments on the proposed regulations regarding “Increasing Recreational Opportunities through the Use of Electric Bikes.” Our Chapter is comprised of 3,000+ dues paying members who, as hunters and anglers, are avid users of the Bureau of Land Management lands here in Montana.

 

Our members cherish the current spectrum of recreational pursuits and believe in a good balance of motorized and non-motorized opportunities. However, we believe that this balance is already tipped heavily to favor motorized uses. We sincerely believe that by allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails and in non-motorized areas the BLM would be making a grave mistake. By definition, e-bikes are motorized and their use in non-motorized areas infringes on the experiences of all user groups who seek recreational opportunities free from mechanization and motors.[1]

 

What is actually being proposed is a reallocation of non-motorized recreation opportunity to motorized recreation opportunity. Contrary to the BLM’s title of this proposal, the proposed regulations would not increase recreation opportunity. The title implies that e-bike users would not avail themselves of non-motorized recreation opportunities or use areas now open to motorized travel. Further, the proposal fails to acknowledge that existing non-motorized recreation opportunities on non-motorized trails and in non-motorized areas would be eliminated.

 

Other than the ease, convenience and profit of a few, in our opinion, there is no reason or need to classify e-bikes as non-motorized or to create a special exemption for this user group. Conversely, there are many good reasons to keep your regulations concerning motor vehicles simple and straightforward.

 

The proposal is a “solution” looking for a problem that does not exist; sufficient motorized opportunity already exist. There are 100,000 miles of motorized roads and many thousands of miles of trails on lands administered by the Department of Interior.[2] Nearly all of these roads and trails are uncrowded by any measure. We travel them on a regular basis, and it is not uncommon to go miles or even days without seeing another person.

 

This proposal would also create issues with regards to trail maintenance, enforceability, trail design, wildlife habitat as well as user safety and conflict.

 

Trail Maintenance: An extensive backlog of deferred trail maintenance already exists across the nation.[3] This backlog is calculated at more than $15 billion, and it’s increases annually.[4] The introduction of e-bikes would accelerate the deterioration and destruction of the non-motorized trails.[5] Motorized bikers simply travel more miles in a single day than non-motorized users, thus generating more wear and tear and thus increased maintenance demands.

 

In addition, the effort to maintain current, accurate trail signs has always been a challenge.  The introduction of e-bikes on non-motorized trails could cause a great deal of confusion and will require much additional signage.  Longstanding federal policy requires that all motorized recreational uses of our public lands to be confined to a system of designated roads, trails, and areas. See Executive Orders 11644 and 11989; 43 C.F.R. part 8340; 36 C.F.R. part 212.  The necessity of changing existing signage, or adding new signage, seems like an unwarranted and unnecessary government expense just to accommodate e-bikes. Any new government funds could be better used for repairing the extensive deferred maintenance backlog or building new trails. It would take years and years to update the signage on non-motorized trails, if ever completed.

 

Enforceability: Common sense dictates that e-bikes must to be classed as motorized vehicles because they use a motor. This straightforward logic is the basis for current regulations that are easy to understand - and to enforce. Any other classification defies logic and creates a vague and unenforceable “grey area.” The proposal of “pedal assist only” is nonsensical. It immediately raises questions of how much assist and what constitutes as “pedaling.” The proposal ignores the inevitability that e-bikes will be modified to increase power and reduce the assist required. It appears that the proponents have given little thought to enforcement. In fact, the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association, international power equipment companies and e-bike user groups created a classification system for e-bikes, based on motor and battery sizes and engagement systems for the motor.  Class 2 e-bikes already have throttle that does not require peddling. This fact directly contradicts the proposed classification.

 

Finally, many states have regulations that prohibit hunting from a motorized vehicle. Federal classification of e-bikes as “non-motorized” will create confusion and complicate state game law enforcement. Technology advancement of e-bikes with more speed, range and options will undoubtedly raise more enforcement issues and confusion as well. 

 

Trail design: The non-motorized trail system was built and has been maintained for non-motorized travel. Even so, the management agencies cannot keep up with trail maintenance. One need only a quick Google search to see the amount of wear and soil displacement that non-motorized bikes can create, especially when traveling downhill. Adding motors will only make the trail maintenance situation more problematic. E-bikes can travel at 25-30 miles-per-hour on flat ground; downhill speeds would be even greater. The current technology includes e-bikes that can travel 50 mph. Our trail system was not built to accommodate the use of e-bikes.

 

Wildlife habitat and security: Current big-game management is based on distance from motorized access. Allowing e-bikes in non-motorized areas negates mitigations that allow other uses such as logging, administration and management activities, establishing/maintaining electronic sites, hiking and hunting. Defining e-bikes in a way that allows motorized use off-road and off-trail only exacerbates this problem.

 

Safeguarding relatively secluded and undisturbed habitats is essential for species sensitive to human disturbance. Sage grouse, for example, are a sensitive species that will decline further with the increased human disturbance that would undoubtedly occur with expanded penetration of their habitats by e-bike users.

 

User Safety and Conflict: Being relatively quiet, e-bikes can quickly approach other users unnoticed. This creates especially dangerous situations for people on horseback and even more so if they are leading a horse or mule pack string. For these users in particular, e-bikes create a danger that does not exist now in most areas. It could lead to an increase in accidents and personal injury. Startled people, hunting dogs and horses (or other pack animals) will be an inevitable result. Conflict, personal injury and liability claims are likely to increase substantially. In the past two years there has been a fatality and another serious injury by mountain bike riders surprising grizzly bears on trails here in Montana. If permitted, e-bikes could exasperate the number of these defensive bear attacks as e-bikes would facilitate even greater speed and range further into secure habitats.

 

In conclusion, our Chapter urges that the proposal classify e-bikes as non-motorized be terminated on all our public lands managed by the BLM.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

John B. Sullivan III

Chairman

Montana Chapter

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

 

[1] The Motorcycle Industry Council conservatively estimates there are four times more OHVs in the West than there were a decade ago.

 

[2] Statement of Scott Cameron, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, Department of the Interior, Before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (June 18, 2019).

[3] As of the end of FY 2018, the Department’s total deferred maintenance backlog was $16.4 billion, and nearly one-half of that total is related to transportation assets—primarily roads and bridges, but also including tunnels, parking areas, shuttle buses, ferries, trams, and trails. Id.

 

[4] Id.

 

[5] Researchers commonly indicated that mountain biking effects on soils are often the result of poor trail design, or of trails being used for activities outside of their originally intended purpose (Callahan 2008, Davies & Newsome 2009, White et al. 2006).

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