Objection Reviewing Officer
Bitterroot Travel Plan
USDA Forest Service
26 Fort Missoula Road
Missoula, MT 59804
The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is objecting as a supporter of the previous Bitterroot Forest Decision to close the Blue Joint and Sapphire Wilderness Study Areas to mountain bikes. Our organization is composed of more than 2,600 Montana hunters and anglers, many of whom use and will continue to use both the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs. We have commented previously on the Bitterroot Travel Plan.
Mountain bikes are specifically designed to allow bike riders to traverse all of the trails present in these WSAs. That means up to 121 miles of trails may be re-opened to bikes. These trails were located and designed for horse and stock use, and they were not constructed to accommodate bike use.
User conflict on these trails occurs when bikers encounter people who specifically use WSAs to travel slowly and quietly through the Forest by foot or with stock. Either by stock or by foot, travel speed is 2 or 3 miles per hour. Mountain bikes can travel several times that speed. Not only does this present user conflicts with encounters with mountain bikes, but it can create safety issues when stock or people on foot are encountered on trails not designed by bikes at potentially high speed.
Diversity of experience is reduced when more trails are opened to mountain bikes. There are already thousands of miles of Montana National Forest trails open to mountain bikes outside of WSAs and Wilderness areas. We believe those seeking quiet solitude deserve the current diversity of opportunity that presently occurs on the Bitterroot Forest.
Mountain bikes “shrink” the effective big game security areas in portions of the Forest where they are permitted. Because mountain bike equipped hunters can penetrate un-roaded landscapes much faster and easier than foot travelers or stock users, they can rapidly reach the heart of what was previously reached only by the most dedicated and hardy hunters. When more hunters can penetrate these areas, security value for big game and other wildlife species is substantially reduced. That means animals which need or are seeking secure areas may be forced to abandon these habitats. Sometimes animals may be forced to leave the Bitterroot and seek refuge on private lands. We request that the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs be managed for their big game security values, by not re-opening any trails to mountain bikes. Any areas opened to mountain bikes will experience reduced wildlife security.
Lastly, we believe both of these WSAs qualify for Wilderness designation. Allowing establishment of non-conforming uses such as mountain bikes will substantially reduce the political reality of designating these areas as Wilderness in the future.
The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers