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E-bikes gain traction

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By the end of March, the U.S. Forest Service announced finalized guidelines for districts that wish to expand the use of electric bikes (e-bikes) on its trails in the future. 

E-bikes are currently permitted on all Forest Service roads and 60,000 miles worth of motorized accessible trails — which make up 38% of the total trails the agency manages. The finalized policy, issued on March 31, permits the continued use of e-bikes on trails already designated for motorized vehicle use and “lays out a process to evaluate future requests for expanded access,” according to a recent press release from the agency. 

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“This is a national policy developed by our Washington office to provide clarity and guidance for local units across the United States,” explained White River National Forest (WRNF) public affairs officer David Boyd. “The directive clarifies the definition of an e-bike and identifies e-bikes under three classes of motor vehicles.” 

Class one e-bikes have a motor that only works while the rider is pedaling and turns off after reaching 20 miles per hour (mph); class two e-bikes do not require pedaling for the motor to run but still shut it off at 20 mph; class three e-bikes require pedaling for the motor to run, but it shuts off at 28 mph. 

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“E-bikes are currently allowed in our summer travel management on roads and trails open to motorized vehicles,” Boyd clarified. But, he added, e-bikes are not currently permitted on any WRNF trails designated for non-motorized use.

However, that could shift by way of a public land-use management change process. “Currently, there are no proposals or plans to change e-bike management on the WRNF,” stated Boyd. “Potential changes related to e-bikes would be similar to any other potential land-use management changes in which we would be coordinating closely with partners and stakeholders and involve the public.”

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He clarified that such a process would also involve “some level of environmental analysis under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act].” 

A conservationist’s perspective

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“We haven’t been closely following the Forest Service policy because by and large the agency has been rightly classifying e-bikes as motorized vehicles,” Wilderness Workshop (WW) policy director Juli Slivka told The Sopris Sun. 

WW is a nonprofit based in Carbondale with the mission “to protect and conserve the wilderness and natural landscapes of the Roaring Fork Watershed, the White River National Forest and adjacent public lands.”

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WW’s policy director appreciates that, under current policy, for e-bikes to be permitted on a non-motorized trail “the agency must comply with its Travel Management Rule … which requires environmental impact analysis and public input so that trails can be sited to avoid conflicts with wildlife and other resources.”

She added that the organization has “been much more engaged in the BLM’s [Bureau of Land Management] e-bike policy, which seeks to classify e-bikes as non-motorized vehicles, thereby circumventing meaningful analysis.” In 2019, the Department of the Interior, under former President Donald Trump, issued Secretary’s Order 3376 “for the purpose of creating recreational opportunities through the use of electric bikes,” reads the BLM website. 

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To Slivka’s point, the BLM website further states that “the BLM’s rule defines an e-bike as a bicycle with a small electric motor of not more than 750 watts (one horsepower) which assists in the operation of the bicycle and reduces the physical exertion demands on the rider.”

Still, the proposed use of e-bikes on any non-motorized BLM trail must be approved by an authorized officer “through subsequent land-use planning and implementation-level decisions,” reads its website.

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In 2020, the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office decided to allow class one e-bikes on the Grand Hogback Trails, six miles north of Rifle.

“We’re [WW] advocating for the BLM to revise its e-bike policy to ensure that e-bike trails are sited appropriately, which requires recognizing that they are motorized vehicles and analyzing their impacts accordingly,” Slivka said.

Tags: #David Boyd #E-bikes #Juli Slivka #U.S. Forest Service #White River National Forest #Wilderness Workshop
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