Here’s how the use of this new technology will be managed on national forests and grasslands and what it means for public land hunters and anglers
If you talk with hunters and anglers about electric bikes, or e-bikes, you will get a mixed response. Some embrace the obvious utility of e-bikes for accessing remote areas and for hauling gear and game. Others worry that widespread use of e-bikes—by dramatically increasing the ability of the average person to travel further into the backcountry—could potentially have a negative impact on our big game herds. Such concerns are warranted: Research clearly shows that high-volume trail use displaces big game, and in some areas high motorized route densities are associated with excessive elk harvest. Elk are particularly susceptible to these impacts, as they require large secure areas far from heavily used roads and trails to thrive.
On March 31, 2022, the Forest Service announced its final internal guidance on how e-bikes will be managed on national forests and grasslands. The long-anticipated update reaffirms the existing policy that e-bikes are now, and will continue to be, managed as a motorized use—that is, e-bikes will be allowed on all currently authorized roads and trails open to motorized use and not allowed on roads and trails closed to motorized use, seasonally or otherwise. At the same time, the guidance also outlines a process for the agency to evaluate requests for expanded e-bike access and establishes a new “e-bike only” trail category.
As an avid motorcyclist and mountain biker who has used two wheels to access my favorite hunting spots for many years, the new guidance is somewhat reassuring, but it also highlights the need for hunters and anglers to engage in local travel management planning to make sure quality hunting opportunities are maintained.
Here’s what you need to know about this update.
The purpose behind the new guidance is to provide direction for the agency to coordinate travel management planning with other federal, state, county, local, and tribal governments, to ensure, as much as possible, the continuity of recreational experiences across these jurisdictions. The guidance also directs the agency to consider how emerging technologies such as e-bikes provide opportunities for individuals that may otherwise be prevented from certain forms of recreation on our public lands.
The guidance categorizes e-bikes into Classes 1, 2, and 3, all of which are limited to a 750-watt-capable motor—essentially the same classification adopted in 2020 by the Bureau of Land Management. The biggest difference in the Forest Service’s guidance as compared to the BLM’s is that the Forest Service has elected, by default, to regulate all categories of e-bikes as motorized use. The Forest Service’s guidance also provides a process and specific criteria for evaluating new “e-bike only” trail designations and for allowing e-bikes on existing non-motorized trails.
When the Forest Service classifies trails and routes by allowable use during the travel management planning process, the agency emphasizes combinations of motorized and non-motorized uses on the same trails, but also recognizes that the best way to minimize conflicts among user groups may be to provide separate routes for each. As a result, the creation of a new “e-bike only” category could lead to a proliferation of additional trails if, for example, traditional mountain bikers can’t get along with e-bikers. In these cases, which—again—will be decided at the local level, e-bike compatibility with traditional mountain bikes will likely depend on the category of e-bike under consideration: class 1 e-bikes, which require pedaling and are limited to 20-miles per hour, are considered the most compatible with traditional mountain bikes.
Of particular interest to hunters is that the updated Forest Service guidance maintains limited use of motor vehicles (now specifically including e-bikes) for game retrieval within a limited distance of specific routes during big game hunting season. The particulars of when and where this is allowed will be made clear in individual travel management plans. And remember: While many hunters with traditional mountain bikes utilize gated roads closed to motorized use as a means of accessing hunting areas, hunters with e-bikes cannot do the same and are subject to the motorized use closure.
E-Bikes and Habitat Fragmentation
There are welcome provisions in the updated guidance that promote conservation and stewardship, and some provisions that are less clear. On the positive side, the specific criteria for designating trails and trail-use areas require that the agency considers the potential for “harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats.” Additionally, the policy explicitly calls out considerations for maintenance and administration of new trails in the context of budget and staffing, and it provides guidance to avoid adding new routes unless adequate budget and staffing for long-term maintenance have been identified. Both of these provisions promote conservation and well-designed, sustainable trail systems for access.
There are also provisions to address unauthorized routes, but some of the guidance regarding this issue remains problematic to those who care about the impact of these trails on habitat fragmentation. On the one hand, the policy prohibits use of unauthorized routes, calls for identifying unauthorized routes through travel analysis, and prioritizes addressing restoration and decommissioning of unauthorized routes when making travel management decisions. On the other hand, the policy acknowledges that some unauthorized routes are well sited and would enhance the system of designated routes. This seems to pave the way for continuation of the long-criticized practice of allowing unauthorized trail builders to have illegally built trails legitimized during travel management planning.
Whether or not you choose to embrace the use of e-bikes for hunting and fishing, as you would any new technology, here are some things to consider:
- Unless otherwise specified in your local travel management plan, e-bikes are allowed only on designated motorized trails or motorized-use areas on Forest Service lands and are subject to the same seasonal restrictions and closures as any other motorized vehicle.
- E-bikes allow public land users to travel significantly farther into the backcountry and provide increased access for all. This may change trail-use characteristics, as well as the distribution of big game on the landscape in your favorite hunting areas.
- If you choose to use an e-bike for hunting and fishing, pay close attention to the class-type (1, 2, or 3) and match your choice of e-bike to the applicable regulations in areas you want access, as identified by the Forest Service in the travel management plan for your hunting area.
- Engage with the Forest Service on travel management planning in the areas you care about. Decisions on the designation of new e-bike only trails and e-bike access on existing trails will impact your hunting access, the distribution of big game, and whether you continue to have quality hunting opportunities in the areas you care about, which is why it is critical that hunters and anglers participate in local travel management planning processes.
- The recently passed Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act requires the Forest Service and other land management agencies to create and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files that depict restrictions by vehicle type, including e-bikes. This will help hunters identify routes where they can and cannot ride their e-bikes in the future.
You can read the updated Forest Service guidance here.
Photo credit: @maxsbenz
22 Responses to “Forest Service Issues Anticipated Guidance for E-Bikes”
The assertion that, “E-bikes allow public land users to travel significantly farther into the backcountry and provide increased access for all” seems to neglect the fact that eBikes have extremely limited range – typically around 30 miles. This means that when the rider gets about 10 miles from the starting point, they need to turn around and head back.
On the contrary, the range of regular bicycles is limited only by the time and the effort of the rider – some of whom ride across entire states or across the country.
It is nice that there is some clarity that defines ebikes by the forest service. I do feel that the bigger picture of limiting access to the forest is short sited. Roads and trails open to motorized vehicles and atvs continue to be shut down and very few new trail systems open up. I hunt all over the west in many western states and would be an advocate of distributing the density of people across the unit and single track trails provide on BLM lands. I feel there is a vocal minority of people that pushed to limit ebikes. This new rule will create over crowding at the end of the roads and trail heads. The goal should be providing more people more access to our public lands and the use of ebikes on single track trails was quite and environmentally friendly.
Finally the decisions that needed to be made….EBikes ARE motorized period….there is Absolutely no way to debate that fact….this is the proper decision and direction. Now hopefully local authorities and municipalities follow course and rule the same. I’m all for new designated trails for these machines. I am also all for designated trails by class, in which only a class 1 ebike should EVER be considered to share trails with exsisting mountain bikes and trails.
Some folks are obviously closed minded and adamant that e-mountain bikes should not be allowed on trails. Either they are uninformed or think the trails only belong to them. A pedal assist e-bike (Class 1 or 3) is not motorized. It only variably assists pedaling effort up to a certain speed. Perhaps MTB elitists should consider other riders ability and health conditions ( I am 64 with chronic leukemia) before they sound off with their opinions. Also the ADA clearly applies to federal facilities and associated access conveyances, a single well placed suit will end this discrimination and the carping of the enviro-activist class.
Brian, I agree with you. My daughter rides an ebike due to physical limitations. It is an adaptive device and should be treated as such. Other adaptive bikes are welcome on the trails, and so should class 1 e bikes. In addition, class 1 e bikes are no longer heavier than some full suspension bikes and can be ridden on “off”, then they are just a bike like any other.
While appreciating the time taken to consider Ebike use of forest areas, I am concerned at both restrictions and abuse of trails by Ebike riders.
Horse traffic causes more trail damage and environmental damage than ebikes ever will. The fact that weed free feed is required for back country use of stock on many places is an example. Horses traveling in these areas spread exotic weeds and no native area plants from the feed they have eaten weeks before entering these areas and it is impossible to control this and it is certainly abuse by those using the stock. Be consistent no ebikes no stock in certain areas also and/or ebikes allowed in certain areas but stock not allowed in those areas.
Perfect, good job.
Unless the USFS has improved funding for law enforcement, this is all just words on paper. As one who has used the TIPS process to report suspected poaching and hunting in restricted areas, reporting means nothing with onloy one LEO between Helena and Dillon, MT. Why worry about ebikes when 4 wheel motorized vehicles go wherever they want to?
I am a 70+ year old MTB who has been riding for more than 30 years. In the past few years some health issues have made riding without my class1 eMTB nearly impossible. Climbs and concern of having a bad day and not being able have energy to get back are big concerns that my eMTB have sufficiently reduced. I have several friends that are in similar situations and eMTB have provided the support to continue riding. Please consider us in your planing. Know many young fit riders look down on eMTBs as they think “everyone should earn it” like they do. Well wait till they are 70 + or have major health issues. Think that American With Disabilities Act should provide legal justification for providing “ Special Use Permits” for persons with medical and age issues. We are riders who respect environment, trails and other users who want to continue to use our forest and BLM trails that we have used for years and have paid taxes to contribute to their existence.
Agree with this post. I am 70+ and while I still use my Specialized Epic, the days in which I can climb the high passes without many stops are years behind me. I suspect that I have paid a lot more in taxes than the vast majority of recreational trail riders. Why not allow eBikes on non-motorized trails for riders that are 50+? They have paid their way and older riders tend to have a lot better trail etiquette than younger riders, eBike or non-eBike.
I agree with you Charles. I started riding mtb’s when Fisher built his first mtb. I’ve earned my miles. But at 71 and still riding, with some health issues, I need the pedal assist to keep riding. I’d like the USFS to allow Class 1 ebikes on non-motorized trails. My ebike gives me the power I no longer have and no more.
I would advocate for allowing Class 1 E-bikes (you must peddle to make it go) on designated motorized trails that are closed on Dec. 15th of every year. As a 75 year-old I would be sincerely grateful!
Last year, I saw a hunter dragging a deer across a farm to there truck. I stopped to ask a few questions, and it turned out the Hunter was a women, her husband was working and the kids were in school. She said without the ebike, she would have to wait until her husband came home from work and would have to come out in the dark with her and drag the deer out. This save everyone a lot of time and work. I am 76 and I cannot drag a deer but 20 ft now, I use to drag a deer 200 to 500 yards, taking a lot of time. I am retired and hunt during the week and need to have some way to get my deer out to my car. I have lift in my car to lift a 400 lb wheel chair so I can life an cow Elk, Buck deer and most black Bears with my lift. I just need an ebike to drag it.
I agree with comments regarding special consideration allowing handicapped or elderly to use ebikes on non motorized roads and trails for accessing recreational areas. This would be a minimal impact on the environment and wildlife.
@Bob G your statement that “eBikes have extremely limited range – typically around 30 miles. This means that when the rider gets about 10 miles from the starting point, they need to turn around and head back.” is irrelevant. If they had a 60 mile range would that be too much? Should we only let people ride ATVS in closed areas if they only have a 30 mile range? Your statement doesn’t pass the smell test. If you go 30 miles on closed logging roads or even 20 miles thats at least 3 times farther than most hunters will walk or bike.
You also fail to acknowledge that the technology will get better. Battery technology is rapidly increasing and 100 mile ebike is in our near future.
I am a ebike rider. I understand the debate from both sides. I purchased an ebike because of my knees and other joints are wearing out. And at 62 I can’t do the hiking that I use to. Someone had recommended having a permit so people with health issues could use there bikes on gated roads. As hunters we need to remember that most of us will be facing the reality that we can’t get around like we use to. That’s why we have very few senior hunters.
I am 64 years old man walking in the woods where I hunt in the south for a long time but I can’t walk anymore due to health issues but I can ride my ebike down fine gravel road that’s got a gate on it and walk in the woods from there and I don’t see a problem with it In the department of wildlife is always saying take a kid hunting it’s us grandparents that take them hunting and when we can’t walk in there they don’t get to go
I’m 72. Others in my riding group are 70, 70, 69, 66 & 56. We respect the environment. We practice proper trail etiquette. Some on e bikes some not. We’re simply riding trail and enjoying the great outdoors and each other. To criminalize that because aging has resulted in some of us needing the assistance of an e-bike while lumping us into a category of noisy, gas powered off road vehicles is totally absurd. It’s our forest too. And, as someone said in a prior comment, we’ve paid a lot more of our incomes towards sustaining the forests and the trails than those who are 50 years younger. This decision needs to work for ALL of us, not just environmentalists ( and I am an environmentalist). The forest is there for all of us to enjoy respectfully.
Having rode mountain bikes for years and backpacked all over the place I have seen the damages to trails and surrounding areas by e bikers. E bikes can travel now up to 60+ miles. The majority of e-bikers have zero trail etiquette. They ride fat tired beasts that weight 55-70 pounds. They fly up and down the trails. If someone is coming up the trail hiking or on a peddle bike, they don’t slow down and either hog the trail or go off trail and tear up the surrounding areas. In the deep back country, I think only those on foot should be allowed including horses. Nothing worse than following an outfitter with multiple horses who have crapped all over the trail. Best thing to limit is tire size, keep them to 1.9 wide instead of fat 4.8 tires, 26″ size wheels to require some skill, only works if they pedal and no more than 45 pound bikes. No trailers or dragging of animals on trails.
Having spent most of my life hiking, kayaking and biking and working in the backcountry, I have seen the damage caused by regular mountain bike as well. You sound like the sort of individual who wants things his way and his way only. I have seen excesses come from all groups of users…horses leaving their crap, hikers leaving their little doggie crap bags on the trail, mtn bikers who do not yield to hikers. The list is long. But to single out ebikes as not having trail etiquette is slightly amusing. If anything, I have found them the most courteous when hiking trails that I have encountered them on. I cannot say that for a good majority of standard mountain bikers. Ebiker are not the problem…it’s the riders. Mountain bikes are not the problem…it’s the riders. The same goes for any mode of transportation. Have you seen some of the non-bike fat tire bikes being sold now? They are beasts! I do not criticize a persons mode of transportation.
I agree with the people that posted about being older and or with medical issues. I feel people over a certain age should be permitted to use e-bikes and those that have medical issues. Its not much different then allowing the Pioneer game licensing that the state offers people for being a native Oregonian and over a certain age. If your worried about the encroachment into the back country give them a range that they are allowed to use the bikes and on foot after that. I’ve see what horses can do to trail systems and it is equally as bad. I have seen the OHV areas in Oregon that they have squeezed people into and it is total destruction to those areas. Limiting people to small areas is just short sited and its kind of like hitting the easy button for those that are imposing the regulations.