Forest plan derailer 

Mountain bikers have been outraged in recent weeks over a draft management plan for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that includes bans on bikes and other mechanized travel—on 354 miles of coveted trails.

“These are some of the best, quiet backcountry trails in Montana,” says Drew Vankat, policy analyst for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), with 12 affiliated clubs in Montana.

Responding to the outcry from cyclists and other groups—and thanks to a bit of pressure from Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg—the United States Forest Service announced April 1 that it would reopen its 30-day comment period on the management plan, which had closed 24 hours earlier.

Mountain bikers and hordes of other wilderness fans—from snowmobilers to backcountry restoration groups—had bristled at the plan’s recommendation that 10 new wilderness areas be closed to mechanized users.

On March 26, the IMBA issued an action alert to urge its members to send public comments before the deadline. In response, dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals flooded the USFS with e-mails and letters. The 30-day extension, set to close at the end of April, will allow an even a wider range of Montanans to comment.

Beaverhead-Deerlodge Public Affairs Officer Jack de Golia says claims about a blanket bike ban just aren’t true.

“We recommend areas for wilderness designation, but Congress has to approve it,” he says, noting that the plan includes areas where bikers are allowed. The inclusion of new wilderness areas was not aimed at bikers in particular, he adds. The plan hopes to restore watersheds and fisheries in the 3.8 million-acre forest.

If the bike-free zones were approved, southwest Montana riders wouldn’t be the only ones who could lose some access. Bikers on the Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100-mile trail from Mexico to Montana along the Rocky Mountain front, would need to take some detours when they got to Montana.

“It’s an incredibly epic trail,” Vankat laments.
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