Feeble NPS E-Bike Assessment Sheds Little Light on Impacts
Park Service Review Dodges Wildlife, User Conflict, Fire, and Other Effects
Washington, DC —A court-ordered eco-assessment reveals that the National Park Service knows very little about the actual effects of allowing electric bicycles (e-bikes) onto park trails, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and other conservation groups. Nor can the agency identify which park units currently allow e-bikes on which trails and under what conditions.
Released in late June, the Programmatic Environmental Assessment on Use of Electric Bicycles Within the National Park System is the result of a lawsuit won by PEER in 2022. The federal court ordered NPS to conduct this assessment as a condition of retaining its policy authorizing individual parks to allow e-bikes on trails and roads open to traditional human-powered bikes.
The resulting 47-page assessment reveals just how little information the agency had gathered on the topics it should have evaluated before changing the policy, including –
- Disturbance of Wildlife. E-bikes allow visitors to move much faster through park backcountry catching animals ranging from bears to birds unaware or chasing wildlife on these motorized vehicles;
- User Conflicts. The agency did not look at conflicts experienced in other state, local, and other federal jurisdictions between e-bikes and hikers, horse riders and traditional bicyclists; and
- Fire Danger. The assessment did not mention rising concerns about fires sparked by e-bike batteries.
“The Park Service assessment repeatedly claims that any negative impacts will be avoided by ‘user education’ without providing any reason for confidence in that approach,” said PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins who won the PEER suit and authored today’s comments. “On e-bikes, the Park Service is hoping for the best but without analyzing, let alone preparing for, the worst.”
In addition, the NPS assessment did not address how promised mitigation measures would be implemented or what they would cost. Nor did the assessment discuss the added enforcement duties imposed on park rangers or the heightened burden on maintenance of unpaved trails from increased traffic by heavier, faster e-bikes, among other topics.
In August 2021, as NPS shifted from the Trump mandatory system-wide e-bike access policy to a policy allowing individual park superintendents to make trail-by-trail decisions, the agency distributed the results of a major “literature review” about e-bike impacts to help inform these decisions. However, the literature review distributed in 2021 was not included or even cited in the 2023 assessment. Nor did NPS produce a current list of park e-bike policies but is relying on a 2020 estimate that 130 parks allowed some e-bike use.
“It is illustrative that the Park Service did not interview a single party outside the agency in compiling this supposedly comprehensive assessment,” Jenkins added. “This document suggests the Park Service’s capacity for serious environmental planning has badly atrophied.”
The public comment period on this NPS Programmatic Environmental Assessment closes tomorrow.