Bicyclists treading a path of cooperation |

Bicyclists treading a path of cooperation

Guest opinion

In May, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill to designate 2.5 million acres of California’s public lands as new Wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964. As the Wilderness representative for Tahoe Area Mountain Bicycle Association (TAMBA), I am writing to explain our position with regards to two areas proposed around South Lake Tahoe, Meiss Meadows and Caples Creek.

TAMBA is a nonprofit, 1,500-plus member organization established in 1988. For the past 14 years, we have worked extensively with land managers at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to conduct trail maintenance and conservation efforts to protect our resources, as well as to implement rider education programs to help reduce user conflicts.

In Tahoe, we understand the importance and sacredness of Wilderness since we have five designated areas already. We heartily support this existing Wilderness. Furthermore, we support preservation of all undeveloped public lands in their natural state, including Meiss and Caples. However, bicycling is currently not allowed in Wilderness so there are places where the Wilderness designation becomes an issue. In the basin, due to existing Wilderness areas as well as private land and state park limitations on bike use, biking opportunities are already restricted so the designation of Meiss and Caples would severely impact bicycling.

We support pro-active alternatives to supplement the Wilderness Act of 1964, such as National Conservation and Protection Areas. Congress has previously enacted both of these types of designations into law. We want the natural character of Meiss and Caples to be preserved. As such, we support the current management system as well as these realistic alternatives rather than the proposed Wilderness designations for Meiss and Caples for the following reasons:

n Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area has 382,926 acres of designated Wilderness in Desolation, Mokelumne, Carson-Iceberg, Granite Chief and Mount Rose. Meiss Meadows and Caples Creek represent 42,820 acres of recreational opportunities that are not allowed in Wilderness. As such, Wilderness designation for Meiss and Caples would eliminate the balance we have today.

n Meiss and Caples offer excellent mountain biking trails with significant use from riders from all over California and beyond. Not only would these new designations eliminate some of the best riding trails, the unintended consequence of this legislation will be an increased concentration of all the displaced users into the remaining riding areas, causing a significant reduction in the quality of everyone’s recreation experience.

n A Wilderness designation for Meiss could cause negative resource and social impacts, and could actually hamper the ability to successfully implement the $300 million Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. With Wilderness designation, an area would be allowed to return to its natural state without the interference of man. However, resource management is necessary in the basin due to the legacy of the Comstock period. The original forest was removed over a two to three decade period beginning in the 1860s.

Today, the replacement forest is problematic, subject to severe insect and wildfire threat. As such, prescribed burning and thinning are necessary in many places in the basin. If Meiss becomes Wilderness, resource management projects under the LTRA may need to be modified to be consistent with the Wilderness Act of 1964. The method for accomplishing these

projects would have to be unobtrusive, conducted by hand, since the Wilderness Act of 1964 does not allow mechanized or motorized equipment.

n If Meiss becomes Wilderness, it would eliminate an existing example of a successful shared-use trail management system. The LTBMU has committed to provide a sustainable well managed multi-use trail system in this area while

protecting resources and maintaining the area in a primitive state. Hikers, bikers and horses currently use this trail system without significant conflict. TAMBA has contributed to this success by posting multi-use signs and helping to educate riders. Additionally, TAMBA and other user groups have conducted extensive trail maintenance work and restoration projects to improve trail quality.

n These Wilderness designations could seriously impact Lake Tahoe’s economy, which is based on recreation and tourism. Mountain biking helps stimulate the local economy and is a vital and prosperous component of the larger South Shore tourism economy. According to the 2001 Economic Threshold Study conducted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 37 percent of recreationists at Lake Tahoe ride their bikes on trails. Mountain bikers dine, shop, stay multiple days and visit Lake Tahoe during the winter to recreate. Lake Tahoe is a mountain biking mecca for national and international riders.

Closing these vital trails could alienate these important visitor segments.

Many of us feel that the process leading to Sen. Boxer’s bill was inadequate and no public input was openly sought. In addition, due to the aggressive commitment to conservation efforts in the basin and innovative and vast stewardship programs, many local agencies and governments do not support these new designations of Wilderness for Meiss and Caples. In fact, following a thorough assessment of the issues, on July 9 the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors passed a formal resolution opposing the proposed designations of Meiss and Caples as Wilderness. Both the South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe-Douglas Chambers of Commerce have also written letters of opposition.

Mountain bikers will continue to be active partners in our community to protect these areas from further development and to be part of the multi-pronged conservation efforts. New Wilderness may be suitable in many areas of California, but here we need something else. We just believe Wilderness is an inappropriate tool for this particular situation.

— Becky Bell is the wilderness representative for Tahoe Area Mountain Bicycle Association. She may be reached at

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