IMBA testifies in U.S. Congress on California wilderness bill

By Steve Medcroft

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) was asked to provide testimony July 14th before the U.S. Congress regarding the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act (S.128/H.R. 233); a bill that threatens to ban mountain biking from 180 miles of singletrack on California's coastline.

IMBA representative Jim Hasenauer, 56, of Woodland Hills, Calif., a Professor of Communications Studies at California State University at Northridge and former IMBA president, spoke before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health.

"The committee was considering three bills," said Hasenauer about the meeting. "We were concerned with HR 233, which designates a Wilderness area in California." The designation limits the use of 300,000 acres of land prime for mountain biking. "Under the designation, there can be no roads, no structures, no motorized vehicles, no timber; not even chainsaws for trail work."

The protection is mean to preserve land in its most primitive state. So why does IMBA not support the bill? "We would love to support the bill but we can't," Hasenauer explains. "The way it stands, 180 miles of trails that would be closed to bicycles. Closed because bicycles are currently included in the list of activities banned from protected wilderness."

"Mountain bikes weren't specifically banned by the original Wilderness Act of 1964," he says. "We were affected by legislation in 1984. At the time, mountain biking was relatively new. The (Specialized) Stumpjumper was only four years old. Nobody knew who we were, whether we would be environmentally oriented."

IMBA hopes that its invitation to lobby the bill will result in changes before the bill becomes law. "We're hoping the current bill gets changed to protect some of the land with mechanisms that allow biking. Or grandfather bicycling in. Either way, we want to tell the story that mountain bikers are conservationist and believe that we can ride in a way where we don't do damage."

IMBA's impact on the bill won't be immediately known. "It's not like they listen to what you say, crack the gavel and vote - it will be a couple of years before the bill takes its final shape," says Hasenauer. "Until then, we'll keep working with other activities like letter writing and publicity campaigns."

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