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Letter

Earlier this week, Senator Daines wrote an 11th hour letter to the Forest Service imploring the Agency to reconsider a 2016 decision to limit “mechanized and motorized” uses in the Bitterroot National Forest’s Blue Joint and Sapphire Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).

These WSAs have been the innocent subjects of a legal battle that has broadly pitted two seemingly affable groups against each other: folks who like to access the backcountry and folks who want to protect the backcountry. The issue: Whether bikes should be allowed in the WSAs.

It is temping to pick a side, start calling the other something like “extreme environmentalists” or “knuckle dragging moto-heads,” and continue to scroll through your news feed. Because, of course, this is the era of Trumptopia and in Trumptopia, political controversies abound and there are only two sides to the issues and only one side, the side you’re on, is the right side.

Except its not.

I am one of those extreme environmentalists attorneys. But don’t stop reading, because I am also a fourth generation, moto-head, mountain biking Montanan. Which means, regarding the WSA issue, I am on your side. Whatever side that is. I understand you. I understand why you so badly want to ride in the Sapphire and Blue Joint WSAs. I understand why you want to protect the Sapphire and Blue Joint wilderness character. And I understand that, at the most basic level, you are fighting for the same thing as your alleged adversary — our public lands.

The problem is, in Trumptopia neither of these sides will win: We have seen outrageous and even comical ideas become law. We have seen the government attempt to scrap huge swaths of our public lands. We have seen millions of our acres logged, drilled, over grazed, scraped and burned. At an alarming rate, the Forest Service is eradicating the rules that once protected our forests from these threats.

Is it fun to ride trail through vast stretches of clear cuts? The answer is a resounding “no.”

So when the government wants to provide extra protection on a relatively small piece of land, lets temper our rather short-sighted desire to ride our bikes in that specific part of the high alpine and, instead, change the conversation.

Lets stop talking about mountain bike access in WSAs. It’s the wrong issue to spend our resources on. Lets start talking about how we can create more mountain bike trails in areas that don’t associate with the word “wilderness.” Let’s start pushing the Forest Service to create new trails in the plethora of management areas that support it. Why are we (mountain bikers) fighting for a piece of the pie when there is a whole lot of cake on the other table? Why are we (wilderness advocates) allowing this conversation to become increasingly polarized rather than trying to guide this fledgling public interest group? Instead of feeding the hostility between us, lets start working toward our common goal: protecting public lands — its existence, its wildness, its beauty, its legacy and the ability to access it as conservationists.

Kristine Akland, Missoula

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