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Sustainable Trails Coalition Update (Posted: 03/29/2017)

The following is from the Sustainable Trails Coalition, a group working to allow mountain bikers the possibility of access to wilderness areas.

 

H.R. 1349 - The House Bill

As most know, we have a bill circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 1349. The author, Rep. Tom McClintock of California, is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Lands of the House Committee on Natural Resources. One could scarcely ask for a more influential author of the legislation STC seeks, or one more committed to getting it passed.

Working in close coordination with Chairman McClintock and his staff, as well as other interested parties supporting the bill, we are now underway with a broad lobbying campaign throughout the House to recruit cosponsors for the bill. As we add more sponsors to H.R. 1349, we will amass the requisite support to move the bill through committee and ultimately to the House floor.

One person expressed concern that Chairman McClintock’s bill goes too far the other way by forcing Wilderness land managers to open trails to mountain biking. It doesn’t. Numerous rules and guidelines in the Code of Federal Regulations and federal agency policy manuals and handbooks allow the Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management to regulate when, where, and under what circumstances people can visit federal land. The bill merely puts mountain bikers in the same category as campers who can’t camp by certain lakes, hunters who can hunt only in season, hikers who can’t hike if a trail is damaged or it would disrupt a species migration, or canoeists who can’t bring in a boat contaminated with invasive species.

What We Need People To Do !!!

Once again we ask everyone to write, e-mail or call your member of Congress asking him/her to support, co-sponsor, and vote for H.R. 1349. This is CRITICAL. Please do this even if you already did it last year or earlier this year, pointing specifically to H.R. 1349. Politicians listen to their constituents. If you want to get rid of the biggest no bike sign on earth, make yourself heard.

This link shows how to identify and e-mail your member of Congress, with talking points. It takes less than three minutes. http://sustainabletrailscoalition.us11.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=8318c49ff9692ffd0d8edaf10&id=ff397b598b&e=cdc0326b54

S.3205 - The Senate Bill

As for the U.S. Senate, last year Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced S.3205, the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act. This was wonderful, but it came too late in the session for the bill to advance. We expect them to be introducing similar legislation in this new Congress, and we’re working to secure bipartisan sponsorship. Toward this goal of having both Republicans and Democrats on the bill, we urge you to write your two Senators. Here are talking points.

You might also consider writing a letter to the editor of the largest newspaper in your area. Again, talking points can be found on the STC website.

Assessment of Our Long-term Progress

When we started STC in 2015, two lobbyists for the bicycle industry assured us we wouldn’t get anywhere and we were wasting our time.

That assessment didn’t surprise us, since no one else had ever tried before, including those jaded critics, who didn’t try even when we had a mountain biking president in George W. Bush. Those members of Congress who had heard of Wilderness at all probably didn’t know bicycling is excluded. Same for the Pacific Crest Trail.

In 2015, frustrated mountain bikers facing trail losses were doing desperate things like writing online petitions, which get no traction on Capitol Hill.

Since then, we (meaning you and STC) have:

  • Lit a fire on Capitol Hill. Whether a U.S. Senator or member of Congress is for or against us, almost everyone knows about the bicycle bans. It has become part of the national agenda.
  • Received huge amounts of press coverage. Two years ago even most regular backcountry visitors probably didn’t know about the bicycle bans. Stories and op-eds in many newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times and Washington Post to Outside, National Geographic, and Men’s Journal, as well as various regional newspapers in the West, have alerted the whole country to these unfair bans.
  • Probably made it much more difficult for another Boulder–White Clouds loss to happen. Hundreds of you have written your senators and member of Congress. Reporters are asking questions. Congressional staffs read newspapers containing articles about the bicycle bans. Boulder–White Clouds got through because Wilderness bicycle bans were sufficiently uncontroversial and invisible that power brokers could ignore mountain bikers. No longer is that so true.

Still, we wish to be candid. Our professional trail access lobbyist—the only paid lobbyist who has ever tried to get the Wilderness and Pacific Crest Trail bicycle bans overturned—tells us the current main problem is the politically toxic climate in Congress. Lawmakers are angry with one another, whether it’s over health care, Supreme Court appointments, foreign relations, travel restrictions, ethics—you name it. We, like many other good causes, are swept up in a tide of partisan ill will.

Let’s put it this way: If Congress could vote by secret ballot on these bills (which isn’t allowed) or by voice vote (which is), they’d pass overwhelmingly. But votes on the legislation will likely be formally recorded and not be done by voice, so it’s politics that govern, not reason.

For example, the staff of one liberal western Democrat recently let our lobbyist know they understand and like what we’re doing. But their boss may still feel unable to go on the record in support of access reform. We won’t understate the difficulties.

Finally, and as always, we thank you for your generous financial support. If you’d like to help us keep pushing, please consider donating again, or buy a shirt, and ask three friends to do the same. We’re fund-raising among prospective major donors, so please don’t feel we’re asking you, our loyal crowd-funders, to bear the whole burden.

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Labor of Love in the Wilderness (Posted: 03/19/2017)

Albuquerque Journal
By Rosalie Rayburn / Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians who frequent the forests and mountain trails outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe perform a vital role as guardians of these recreational areas.

Each year, groups from local clubs put in thousands of volunteer hours to keep the trails clear of vegetation, repair weather- and fire-caused damage or create new routes to enhance the trail experience. They partner with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), Albuquerque Open Space Division, New Mexico State Parks and National Monuments in the state.

“Volunteers accomplish an astounding amount of work every year, especially on trails in and out of the wilderness,” said Jennifer Sublett, the U.S. Forest Service volunteer coordinator for the Española & Pecos/Las Vegas and Coyote Ranger Districts.

Sublett decides which maintenance projects to pursue in her area and coordinates with the various groups to schedule the work and tracks their hours. In the Santa Fe National Forest alone, volunteers put in 24,000 hours of service in the fiscal year between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016.

Important work

Volunteer labor has become critical to keeping trails open as federal budgets have been cut, said Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Cibola National Forest Sandia Ranger District. He is one of only two Forest Service employees with responsibility for about 400 miles of trails that crisscross the Sandia Mountains and a big chunk of land south of Interstate 40 near Tijeras.

“We have to have the manpower to get trail projects done,” said Wood.

It’s tough physical work that often involves using hand tools – federal law prohibits the use of power tools in congressionally designated wilderness areas – to saw through storm-felled trees, lop off branches and dig dirt to re-route trails to prevent erosion. Volunteers typically have to have first aid and CPR training and receive certification to use tools like a chain saw or the traditional two-person cross-cut saw.

Wood said the Forest Service usually provides tools, gloves and hard hats, and training for saw operators. Volunteers may have to pay for the first aid training.

Despite the demanding nature of the trail maintenance work, there are plenty of groups that have risen to the task.

‘For love of it’

Bob Lowder is a longtime member of Friends of the Sandia Mountains, a nonprofit that works with the U.S. Forest Service on conservation projects in the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest. He and other members tackle trail projects almost weekly anywhere from the Sandia foothills near Placitas to the edge of the Isleta Reservation. Most of the crew are retirees in their upper 60s or early 70s.

“They do it for the love of it,” said Lowder.

Albuquerque architect Kevin Balciar, an avid hiker, took the initiative on his own to bring a volunteer crew to work in the Pecos Wilderness. He began about 24 years ago and has coordinated with Sublett to do a couple of project each year since.

His 6- to 11-person crews typically follow a trail to a campsite and use that as a staging area during their nine-day project. One of their projects involved clearing trees from trails in the area hit by the 2013 Jaroso Fire that burned more than 10,000 acres of the Pecos Wilderness near the Pecos river headwaters. Sometimes projects are in such remote areas with such challenging terrain that supplies have to be brought in by pack horses or mules.

“It can be an enormous job,” said Mary Ann Ende, president of the Pecos Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico. The group has helped other volunteer organizations by hauling in supplies of food, water and lumber to forest sites in the Pecos Wilderness far from the nearest trail head.

Burned areas

Tree clearing work by volunteer crews from Santa Fe Fat Tire Society, a mountain bike club, helped reopen trails near the Santa Fe Ski area that were scorched by the 2011 Pacheco fire.

Club member Brent Bonwell estimated members put in more than 2,500 volunteer hours and cleared about 400 trees in 2016.

The club has adopted a roughly six-mile section of the Winsor Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest. It also partnered with the Commonweal Conservancy, a private nonprofit, that has developed trails in the Galisteo Basin.

“There are about 100 miles of trails that we maintain and clear downed trees. Those in burned areas require more maintenance,” Bonwell said.

Other groups that pitch in to maintain local recreational trails include the Albuquerque Mountain Bike Association (AMBA), Placitas Area Trail Association, East Mountain Trails Association and New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors.

In some cases, agencies are able to provide grant funding for projects. AMBA recently partnered with the Sandia Ranger District, which received a $50,000 federal grant for trail improvements in the popular mountain biking area around Cedro Peak east of Albuquerque. The mountain bike club committed nearly $3,000 toward the project, which will enable Sandia District to hire a five-person trail crew for the 2017 summer season, according to the club website.

“Together, volunteers and grant-funded trail crews help us to accomplish our trail maintenance and improvement goals each year,” Sublett said.

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RTP Grant Update (Posted: 02/07/2017)

AMBA recently partnered with the Sandia Ranger District and was awarded a $50,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant money for improvements in the greater Cedro area! In order to receive this grant, AMBA has committed to provide the required non-Federal match (close to $3,000) to make this project happen.

With this funding, the Sandia Ranger District will be able to hire a 5 person trail crew for the 2017 summer season to implement more improvements (including trail relocations and new trails) to an already great trail system!

Some of the work will include a number of relocations on trails around Oak Flats such as the Pine Flat Connector, Pine Loop, Oak Flat connector, near Cedro - Meadow Singletrack, Bear Scat, Powerline. Also there will be a few newly designated trails to add more connectivity.

Click here to view map of some of the proposed changes.

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AMBA Submits Comments for Cibola Forest Service Plan (Posted: 08/29/2016)

AMBA has carefully reviewed the forest service plan and has submitted detailed comments.

Click here to view letter.

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Forest Plan Revision Process for the Cibola National Forest Update (Posted: 08/25/2016)

IMBA submits comment letter pertaining to the Draft Plan Alternatives and provides comment directly on several of those Alternatives.

Click here to view the letter.