The Trump administration on Wednesday gave qualified support to two bills by Utah’s senators that seek to expand use of trails in current wilderness areas — which they seek to push through Congress and before it soon adjourns for the year.
One by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would clearly allow the use of bicycles in wilderness and wilderness study areas — which Lee said agencies have largely prohibited since the 1970s. It would allow local public lands managers to determine whether, where and when to allow bicycle use.
Another by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, would remove 326 acres of wilderness areas in Salt Lake and Utah counties to allow extending the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, designed eventually to stretch for 280 miles. To offset the removal, the bill would add 326 acres of wilderness to preserve land formerly owned by the Boy Scouts in Mill Creek Canyon.
Both were among a group of bills that both parties are trying to push and have signed by Trump before he leaves office that were included in a hearing Wednesday by a Senate subcommittee on natural lands chaired by Lee.
Michael Nedd, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, submitted testimony supporting Lee’s bill to allow bicycles in wilderness areas.
“It is consistent with the administration’s goals, and the department’s ongoing efforts, to expand public access to our federal lands,” he said.
Also submitting testimony in support of the bill was Chris French, deputy director of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The department supports expanding recreational access on National Forest System lands in a manner that preserves the ecological, cultural, and historical integrity of the landscape and supports the social and economic needs of adjacent communities,” he said, although he said his service has a few technical concerns that it hopes to work out.
French also gave qualified support to Romney’s Bonneville Shoreline Trail bill.
While he said his agency does not oppose the adjustments it would make to wilderness areas, it raised concerns that an area that would be removed from the Lone Peak Wilderness “contains terrain that will pose significant challenges during construction and use of the proposed trail.” He said it is willing to work to resolve that concern.
The conservation groups Save Our Canyons, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and others have come out in opposition to the Bonneville Trail legislation, saying it “cannot support piecemeal attacks that threaten the preservation of Utah’s Wilderness.”
While supporting the vision of a multi-use Bonneville Shoreline Trail, the groups wrote, “the legislation substantially fails to achieve its purpose of providing trails welcoming to users of various abilities. In addition, removing designated Wilderness and replacing those acres with non-wilderness quality lands undermines our bi-partisan and multi-faceted agreement.”