Groups Applaud New Direction on Use of Electric Bikes on Public Lands – 8.15.23
August 15, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Judi Brawer, Wildlands Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA); (435) 355-0716 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Randy Rasmussen, Director, Public Lands & Recreation, Back Country Horsemen of America; (541) 602-0713 (WildernessAdvisor@bcha.org)
Tyler Ray, Senior Director for Programs and Advocacy, American Hiking Society; (301) 565-6704 x705 (email@example.com)
Mark Larabee, Advocacy Director, Pacific Crest Trail Association; (503)-880-5987 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
James Catlin, Volunteer, Sierra Club; (801) 441-9669 (email@example.com)
Peter Jenkins, Senior Counsel, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER); (202) 265-4189 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Salt Lake City, UT – Conservation and recreational user groups are applauding new guidance issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Instruction Memorandum 2023-051, clarifying how the agency will manage the use of electric bicycles (e-bikes) on non-motorized trails, and implement the so-called “e-bike rule” published in November 2020.
“We are pleased the BLM is taking this issue seriously and recognizes that a ‘cautious approach’ is needed in managing e-bikes, particularly e-mountain bikes (eMTBs), on public lands,” said Judi Brawer, Wildlands Attorney at SUWA. “There’s a long history of hard work by conservationists and human-powered recreation user groups to get areas and trails designated as non-motorized – it wasn’t always that way. Adding a new use – motorized mountain bikes – to already crowded trails necessitates the caution and further study provided for in this new guidance.”
The BLM defines motorized vehicles, referred to as “off-road vehicles,” as “any motorized vehicle capable of, or designed for, travel on or immediately over land, water, or other natural terrain.” As the new guidance explains, all e-bikes have a motor and thus fit squarely within this definition. The BLM manages both motorized and non-motorized areas and trails, with non-motorized areas largely established to protect natural and cultural resources and to ensure that the public can find recreational opportunities free from off-road vehicle use.
The Trump-era e-bike rule, Increasing Recreational Opportunities Through the Use of Electric Bikes, authorized the BLM to, under certain conditions, exempt e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle and be treated the same as non-motorized bicycles. The agency may allow them on trails where off-road vehicle use is otherwise prohibited “only when the electric motor is not exclusively propelling the e-bike for an extended duration.” As the new guidance recognizes, this limitation, “which is intended to help keep speeds down and prevent riders from venturing too far into the backcountry, may be difficult to police on remote, non-motorized trails.”
“Back Country Horsemen of America appreciates the fact that the BLM provided these instructions, which urge caution in the authorization of electric bicycles on non-motorized trails shared by hikers and equestrians,” said Mark Himmel, Back Country Horsemen of America chairman. “The Instruction Memorandum recognizes that scant information is available today on the extent of possible user conflict on trails if e-bikes were allowed and the challenges e-bike use poses to law enforcement in the field.”
The new guidance is a step in the right direction for addressing these concerns by making it clear that BLM leadership must carefully consider, on a site-specific basis, all of the issues raised by authorizing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, including resource impacts, user conflicts, and “the agency’s ability to enforce critical aspects of the e-bike rule that are designed to ensure public safety.”
“We welcome the BLM’s conclusions and hope that the agency dives deeper into the impacts of e-bikes on public lands and other forms of recreation. E-bike users should have great places to ride, and land managers must ensure that this new user group is brought into the mix thoughtfully.” Mark Larabee, Advocacy Director, Pacific Crest Trail Association.
“The Sierra Club embraces using e-bikes, especially when they replace auto use,” said James Catlin, a volunteer with the organization. “This new guidance will help the BLM honor and protect non-motorized trails and areas for both recreationists and wildlife.”
Importantly, the new guidance also clarifies that persons with disabilities may request a reasonable modification to ride an e-bike on trails that are not open to e-bikes or other off-road vehicles, and that granting such requests does not require the heightened oversight by BLM leadership required by the new guidance.
“American Hiking Society welcomes BLM’s guidance on electric bikes as a step in the right direction to manage non-motorized trails for their intended use, while also preserving access for persons with disabilities.” said Tyler Ray, Senior Director of Programs and Advocacy, American Hiking Society. “The Instruction Memorandum (IM) recognizes that research on the impacts of electric bicycles and their compatibility with other uses and users of public lands is limited and additional studies will help inform future BLM decision-making about where and when electric bicycles are appropriate. This measured approach will help to ensure that hikers, e-bike users, and all recreation seekers will be able to enjoy these treasured public lands.”