I wanted to clarify an important aspect of the controversy over mountain biking in the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas seemingly forgotten and conveniently ignored by the Bitterroot Backcountry Bicycling Association.
The original legislation passed in 1977 (S.393) that established the Sapphire Mountains and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas directed the public agencies to manage these WSAs as wilderness until such time that Congress determined otherwise. Wilderness designation does not permit mechanical access—which bikes certainly are.
In addition, the original legislation prohibited any uses not existing at the time of the passage of this bill-i.e. 1977.
I can attest there were no mountain bikes in any of these areas in 1977 or anyplace in Montana. Indeed, when I lived in Missoula back in the 1980s I rode some of the original proto-types for mountain bikes. These clunkers were mostly used on dirt roads, not trails.
Therefore, any mountain biking in these WSAs is illegal. The Forest Service does not have a choice but to ban the bikes until Congress determines the future of these areas.
As executive director of Mountain Bikers for Wilderness, I can attest that there are plenty of place to ride mountain bikes, but there are few places in the entire U.S. that would qualify for wilderness under the Wilderness Act—and both the Sapphires and Blue Joint are among those rare places.
Mountain bikers should appreciate that we have few opportunities to protect our remaining wild places.
— George Wuerthner, Livingston