Mountain bikes and ATVs didn't exist three decades ago. They along with snowmobiles, fat tired mountain bikes, the GPS and any number of other modernizations in how we get about the back country have brought previously inaccessible areas within day use distance of millions.
Motorized users have borne the brunt of access restrictions. The ATV wore large tracks across previously inaccessible land and the total number of off roaders was small compared to hikers, and other back country users. In the 1990s large numbers of Wilderness areas and National Monuments having similar protected status to Wilderness were established both by legislative action and by executive order.
I noticed the effects within my own usergroup, rock climbers. A new and less hazardous type of climbing involving drilled expansion bolts made formerly unprotected faces climbable, unfortunately the battery powered drills were incompatible with Wilderness rules. I'd also noticed by the mid 1980s that many of my fellow climbers had little appreciation for the environment in which we practiced our sport. Few knew the names of plants or the tracks of animals as our eyes were always on the rock, the rest of the environment was simply the backdrop for photos.
Yours truly in a corner of Yosemite.
At about the same time the methods of accessing Wilderness became sports unto themselves. Finding one's way became orienteering competitions, a stiff walk became mountain running competitions. Our vast wildlands and forests became a proving ground and a marketing opportunity for specialized geer. No longer will cut offs, some work boots, and a rain poncho do.
Today about 27% of the USA is in some form of protection or another. Some like BLM or National Forests or private conservation easements are lightly protected others like our Wilderness Areas allow no permanent buildings or mechanical conveyance or toys and therein lies the rub.
Everyone is in favor of Wilderness areas. Hunters and sportsmen because they still allow access to hunt and fish and sportsmen are usually comfortable getting around in wilderness. People who don't like loggers, oil, or mining like it because Wilderness assures them that extraction will no longer happen. People on the other side of the country who will never go there and couldn't point to an area on a map love Wilderness because hey, gotta save what's left before it all gets paved over eh?
Lately though making Wilderness has become more convoluted. There are special carve outs for mile long access roads to the hacienda of some internet gazillionaire and funny shaped indentations for the land of the politically connected or a ski resort. They edge along the sides of prime river rafting areas and more and more they begin where the bike paths end.
If you want to begin a long comments war on an environmental web site just bring up Wilderness access for mountain bikes. Or access in general for mountain bikes. A new entry into the conflict is snow bikes versus skinny skis, and this week I've been following the commments of the rehash of Wilderness versus bikes here.
The Canyon Lands are ground zero in the access versus preservation war with extractive industries, the State of Utah, mountain bikes, and off road vehicles all scrapping over the same pieces of sand and slick rock. River rafters and mountain bike tour companies especially wish to exclude oil, ATVs, and development, but not themselves. Before mountain bikes and ATVs one could pull off the road just about anywhere in the area and throw down a sleeping bag. No need of a tent, it seldom rains. Now one must squeeze cheek by jowl into self service camping areas and pay to sleep next to everyone else and their unkle with generators powering air conned RVs.
One Kossack made a couple mountain bikers in Wilderness get off their bikes and walk with him a few miles to the parking lot. He'd asked the Forest Service for help and they told him they were restricted by a lack of enforcement resources. I believe the Kossack is six and a half feet tall and teaches a type of Brazilian martial arts if I remember correctly.
Bikers claim they are human powered, the Wilderness Act says no things that go round. I can't carry an elk out in a wheelbarrow. Increasingly opposition to new Wilderness comes from a wide variety of quarters, and mountain bike riders are becoming one of the more vocal and influential pieces of that opposition.
For fun I ran across the bit below on my googling. Adding in the years since 09 I'd guess President Obama to be the most Wildernessy guy in the past 3 decades.
On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The legislation designated an additional 2 million acres (810,000 ha) in nine states as wilderness, representing the largest expansion of wilderness lands in over 25 years. Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 09As explanation .. Acts like the Wyoming deal are many many years in the making. President Obama just happened to be President when efforts that mostly were expended during Bush the Junior's years finally came to fruition. There was also very strong support from locals, not just hotels and barkeeps but local locals, hunters and ranchers.
My thoughts? Get rid of the trails altogether when they establish wilderness. No commercial activity, no guides, no tour groups. You want in? Walk or even ride your own horse, but you are on your own, no servants. I don't just want Wilderness I want trackless wilderness.