Forest Service completes e-bike guidance for local land managers

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — The U.S. Forest Service has finalized e-bike guidance for local land managers considering expanding access to trails and grasslands. Although e-bikes are still classified by the Forest Service as motor vehicles, land managers can now recategorize non-motorized to motorized trails to allow access.

“Expanding opportunities for e-bikers to access National Forest System trails is an important step forward,” said Jenn Dice, president and CEO of PeopleForBikes. “While we will continue to urge the U.S. Forest Service to reclassify Class 1 e-bikes as non-motorized, we encourage local land managers to implement these guidelines for more accessible, equitable, and diverse use of e-bikes on our public lands.”

The Forest Service currently allows e-bikes on all of its roads open to motorized vehicles, as well as on 60,000 miles of motorized trails, which represents 38% of all trails managed by the agency. The updated guidelines also outline required environmental analysis and public input required before making future decisions to expand local access to e-bikes.

“National forests and grasslands are a place where everyone can recreate, relax and refresh,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The additional guidance will help our District Rangers and Forest Supervisors better serve their communities with a policy that empowers managers to make local decisions to address e-bike use. This growing recreational activity is another opportunity to responsibly share the experience of the outdoors with other recreational enthusiasts.”

The new direction:

  • Establishes new criteria for designating Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes on trails, roads, and Forest Service lands.
  • Creates specific criteria for designation of motor vehicle use on trails and guidance for designated use of e-bikes on trails. This includes an additional category (Trails open to e-bikes only) to identify motor vehicle classes on a motor vehicle use map.
  • Adds a goal to consider emerging technologies, such as e-bikes, that are changing the way people access and recreate on NFS lands.

E-bike access to Forest Service trails prompted a lawsuit in 2019 by a group of trail and forest advocates. The group said the Forest Service allows Class 1 e-bikes on non-motorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest without conducting a public study. A dismissal order was signed by the Department of Justice on March 31, 2020. Since then, the Tahoe National Forest has included approximately 32 miles of subject trails in an existing assessment study – the East Zone Connect Project – that the USFS approved for Class 1 e-bike use in December 2020.

The Forest Service manages nearly 160,000 miles of trails in 42 states and Puerto Rico for a variety of activities, including mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking, and backpacking. The agency manages all access as part of its multiple-use mission. He says the clarified guidelines will help local decision-makers consider opportunities to expand access for the emerging e-bike user group.

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