As Washington considers an e-bike policy, Conservation Northwest offers its position on e-bikes

As Washington considers an e-bike policy, Conservation Northwest offers its position on e-bikes

Conservation Northwest / Jan 31, 2023 /

Conservation Northwest continues to engage in e-bike policy, aiming toward a fair, sensible policy that works for wildlife

Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted an e-bike public input process (per Senate Bill 5452) and its findings and recommendations were recently submitted to the state legislature.

Now, lawmakers are poised to determine an e-bike policy on state managed lands–particularly for non-motorized natural surface trails and roads closed to motorized use. These trails and roads are where public opinion concerning e-bikes is split, according to the WDFW and DNR report to the legislature.

CNW will continue to advocate for wildlife in the face of growing recreation activity and rapidly advancing forms of mechanized and motorized travel. Through our Wildlife-Recreation Coexistence program, we have voiced concern about the implications for wildlife from increased ridership and biking range on public lands.

While no single trail or recreational experience can be held responsible for declines in wildlife populations — collectively, our trail systems and recreation uses are undeniably impactful. The rapid increases in recreation use and development pose as significant challenges for wildlife, and in the context of determining e-bike access, we advocate for a careful and deliberate process.

While we’re champions for wildlife and habitat, we also recognize that conservation must go hand-in-hand with healthy and equitable communities. We support the accessible recreation that e-bikes provide across the state, particularly in urbanized areas and on motorized trails and roads open to motorized use.

However, for natural surface non-motorized trails and closed roads, we urge that any e-bike access is deliberate to avoid impacts to wildlife and wildlands, and follow a process that emphasizes reducing impacts to wildlife and ecosystems.

In pursuit of a sustainable and pragmatic path for e-bike use on Washington state public lands, CNW supports the following recommendations for the e-bike rulemaking process:

  1. Given its propulsion by an electric motor and for clarity in rulemaking, state e-bike regulations should classify e-bikes, as defined by RCW 46.04.169, as motorized.
  2. When authorizing opportunities for e-bike use, agencies should generally allow e-bike use on existing motorized trails. This would preserve non-motorized recreation opportunities and address concerns regarding user conflicts and safety which are highlighted in the 2022 DFW and DNR e-bike public process.
  3. Agencies may allow e-bikes on roads and trails where mechanized, non-motorized use is allowed on a case-by-case basis where there is public support, and only after the agency conducts the proper analysis of site-specific factors and makes the required determination.
    • Each analysis must be done in accordance with the state environmental policy act (SEPA) and offer full public participation opportunities;
    • Agencies must analyze site-specific factors including all applicable impacts to soil, vegetation, wildlife, and other trail uses, and consider any current degraded site conditions that need to be rectified;
    • The analysis of impacts must be based on robust science and data – including Indigenous knowledge;
    • If an agency determines that e-bikes are causing or will cause considerable adverse effects, including user conflicts, then the agency may not authorize e-bikes on these trails and roads.
  4. Where an agency determines that e-bikes are causing or will cause considerable adverse effects upon soil, vegetation, wildlife, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, Tribal resources, threatened or endangered species, wilderness suitability, or other resources, the area should close to e-bikes and not reopen until the adverse effects are eliminated and measures are implemented to prevent recurrence.

When engaging in any recreation planning processes or proposals regarding expanding recreation use, CNW will also advocate for:

  • Reducing recreation overlap with important habitat and species range, especially for those that are sensitive to human disturbance.
  • Protecting large unfragmented landscapes. These connected, secure habitats help wildlife persist, especially when displaced from recreation use in a nearby area.
  • Protecting connectivity between quality wildlife habitats.
  • Studying increasing recreation use and monitoring for impacts to natural, cultural or Tribal resources. This information can help land managers find wildlife and landscape thresholds of recreation tolerance and can lead to finer-scale management strategies.

In addition to providing these guidelines around e-bikes, we support temporary or seasonal closures of areas during sensitive times for wildlife—such as during winter and breeding seasons – to protect specific wildlife. We also support effective signage and clear mapping of accessible (and non-accessible) trails for e-bikes.

Enforcement is a key element for any e-bike policy and relies on both land manager capacity and good intentions from biking communities. We support a policy that requires accountability and in cases of repeated violations or otherwise problematic e-bike use, we support policy that may withdraw e-bike access in order to better protect natural resources.

We’ll keep you updated as the state legislature continues to review the 2022 public input concerning e-bike use.

Learn more about wildlife-recreation coexistence
E-bike use in areas like Blanchard Mountain, managed by Washington’s DNR, may change in the near future.