IMBA’s Position on The Wilderness Act

find the PDF here

IMBA will continue to respect both the Wilderness Act and the federal land agencies’ regulations that bicycles are not allowed in existing congressionally designated Wilderness areas. IMBA is not supporting H.R. 1349.
As part of our commitment to trail access and public land stewardship, we have been involved in discussions about Wilderness and other forms of legislatively driven protections for public lands for decades. We find that when mountain bikers are given a seat at the table in these discussions, we can protect important trails while finding common ground with those who are looking to create new conservation designations.
Examples like the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act in Colorado and the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act in Montana have been widely celebrated and serve as models for how collaborative efforts involving mountain bikers throughout the process can lead to advancing both conservation and recreation. But some discussions are less inclusive and, in those cases, we actively oppose new Wilderness designations that would negatively impact revered riding opportunities.
…As part of our commitment to balancing conservation and human-powered recreation, we are helping to drive legislative efforts that will protect the places we ride by establishing a more uniform system of National Recreation Area designations with specific inventory and recommendation guidelines for recreation. Representative Rob Bishop’s Recreation Not Red Tape Act (H.R. 3400) does just that, and IMBA actively supports that legislation.

Jim Hasenauer, one of IMBA’s founders, on the Board from 1988-2004, and IMBA President from 1991-96 thinks otherwise: Why IMBA should support reasonable bike access to Wilderness Areas

This is not an easy issue to tackle, but I don’t entirely agree with IMBA, nor HR1349, but some deeper food for thought beyond Jim’s apt words are here, and here.

Excerpts from the second link above:

Is-Oughts and Ethics

First, lets make the entire trail use debate very messy and take into account (as we have to) meta-ethics and moral science. Where do the trail use decision makers is-oughtstand, are they moral realists or relativists and from what vantage point? I make some normative moral relativist arguments in this diatribe, but in then end I’m trying to escape Hume’s Guillotine with an ethical realist/naturalist and utilitarian approach.

Hume’s Guillotine splits an is and an ought to separate the two as a means to say an ought can’t be derived from an is. Trail use arguments are oughts derived from an is: “this is a trail, it ought to be hiking only.” [Or this is open space that ought to be Wilderness] Most people see this statement as a bundle this way: “this trail is hiking only.” The title “hiking only” seems axiomatic or self-evident, but what rights, moral duties, or oughts derive from this rule? The “only” inference in “hiking only” only matters in a dispute between two people, over who ought to own what— exclusion. The “trail” [or land] is a descriptive statement (what is), and the right to exclude others (hiking only) [or Wilderness] is a prescriptive/normative statement (what ought to be).

To say “this is a trail, it is hiking only” is partly right as the is needs to be combined with an ethical statement to get an ethical ought conclusion. To Hume oughts can’t be derived “exclusively” from an is, because the is must be tied to an ethical statement. For example, the utilitarian approach would be: “obeying X increases happiness, therefore X is the right thing to do.” However, this is a tautology (where the ‘right thing to do’ is to increase ‘happiness’– unnecessarily redundant) and still an ought. The ‘right thing to do’ is an ought, and ‘happiness’ is an is. A “hiking only trail” is a bundle that confuses the ‘right thing to do’ (rights of individual sovereignty and property (ethics)) with the is of ‘happiness’ (existence or metaphysics/epistemology). Ethics attempts to make an is from ought.

  • factual/is premise: poaching for x reason on a hiking only trail causes unhappiness
  • ethical/ought premise: it is wrong to cause unhappiness
  • ethical conclusion: poaching for reason x is wrong

It could also be said:

  • factual/is premise: poaching for x reason on a hiking only trail causes happiness for the poacher
  • ethical/ought premise: it is wrong to cause unhappiness
  • ethical conclusion: poaching for reason x is right because the poacher is happy

another framing:

  • factual/is premise: excluding users from a trail for reason x causes unhappiness
  • ethical/ought premise: it is wrong to cause unhappiness
  • ethical conclusion: excluding users for reason x is wrong

The shared use debate can be so combative because it centers around oughts, whether the debaters think about the is-ought problem or not. All trail use designations, shared or single, [including the Wideness Act], are oughts. It could be argued that the single or restricted use position is weaker because it makes normative claims of exclusion, and the more user types allowed on a trail the stronger the case for a trail’s existence (or is) because the the trail becomes closer to being just an “is,” not an “ought.” Access rights are civil liberties that can sometimes be tied to ‘natural’ rights of property, but the connection of so-called natural rights to the use designation of trails is pretty weak. Furthermore, even the idea of “rights” could be argued to be metaphysical or subjective to make the trail use debate even messier. Ethics is messy enough without considering this latter problem. more

Seeking Sanctuary in The Appeal to Nature Fallacy

One of the common misapplications of reason in the trail use debate involves the appeal to nature fallacy. The fallacy follows an is-ought line of reasoning [see more at the link]: x is natural, x ought to be right, and similarly, y is unnatural so y ought to be bad. The argument assumes because something is natural it is good. This is what mountain bikers, OHVs, and sometimes equestrians face, or even hikers if you consider trekking poles unnatural. If we follow the premise to its purest logical end there would be no trails at all in Wilderness because trails are not natural…at least trails constructed with tools. The only “natural” trail would be a trail beaten in by walking it barefoot, and naked. In this sense, where do we draw the line on what’s natural, and do we have to? Wilderness trail rules draw the line using the appeal to nature fallacy.  To be fair, just and consistent, trails would not exist in Wilderness at all, even if they were only built with hand tools, not machines. Even hand tools are not natural. Blazes would not exist either, neither would signs within the boundaries, and users would enter naked and shoeless. Yes, this is a somewhat silly rebuttal, but so is the appeal to nature argument. What’s more silly is that in reality people can go wherever they want in Wilderness, trail or not. While I agree with this freedom to roam, how this correlates with keeping it wild by allowing our presence at all undermines the idea behind Wilderness to begin with. This is why the appeal to nature fallacy fails in this case. Wilderness designates a wild place, except for the oughts it bases on the natural fallacy. Why allow people to go wherever they want, but at the same time ban bikes from actual trails in Wilderness? Bushwhacking all over creation does more harm than allowing bikes to stick to a trail. Why not keep unnatural bikes and unnatural hikes on the unnatural trails? What’s even more peculiar is that bikes are less likely to spook birds than other modes of transportation. Ironically, the thing most likely to scare birds are birders making predatory moves stalking birds with binoculars taking minutes or hours to pass a nesting area or hang-out, not seconds as is the case of bikes. more

Mountain biking has an image problem, or maybe an IMBA problem according to some (like those that refer to it as fIMBA/*uck or vIMBA/vanilla). IMBA can help the image problem, and maybe their own, but it will take more than just IMBA to change this perception. “Perception” brings us back to Hume:

I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…. If any one, upon serious and unprejudic’d reflection thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Particular perceptions of the reality on the ground/trail of actual assholes on wheels and those that promote ‘assholeness’ in images have lead to creating the trail and Wilderness debate to begin with. That, and lets face it, bigotry of otherness. Of course my perception of a self-centered skidding, mud/dirt slinging, speed demon as an ass of otherness may be an ought, but the reality is in th/is:

So get with the program: join fIMBA or a local club/group, donate some time or money to the cause, or do none of that, but at a minimum we ought to do our best to shy away from continuing the image problem of what is, because most of our asses want access to more trails, and Wilderness.

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