Park Service Pedals Backward on E-Bikes

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Thursday, July 1, 2021
Paula Dinerstein (301) 580-4020

Park Service Pedals Backward on E-Bikes

In the Midst of Lawsuit, Trump-Era Order is Rescinded

Washington, DC — The National Park Service (NPS) has ordered all of its units to “reconsider” past approvals of electric bikes on park trails and roads, according to a new internal policy directive.  The directive cites the ongoing litigation by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and others challenging the legitimacy of all prior e-bike authorizations made during the Trump Administration.

The June 30, 2021, memorandum from “acting” NPS Director Shawn Benge directs all parks to –

“[R]econsider whether, where, and under what conditions e-bike use should be allowed on trails or administrative roads… based on the resource conditions of the park, the particular characteristics of the trail or administrative road, conflicting visitor uses, safety concerns, and any other relevant considerations. This memorandum does not dictate the substantive result of this reconsideration.”

Benge’s memo cites the lawsuit by a PEER-led coalition challenging the legality of e-bike orders and a final regulation issued under former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on multiple grounds, including that the NPS never complied with requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to undertake a thorough prior assessment of the potential environmental impacts.

“This is a wobbly move by the Park Service,” remarked PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, who is handling the suit.  “It shows they recognize they have a bad legal mess on their hands created under David Bernhardt, but it is insufficient to fix the mess.”

Much of the controversy concerns heavy, fast-moving e-bikes on backcountry trails carrying risks to startled wildlife, deteriorating trail conditions, and disturbing other users, such as horseback riders, as well as the prospect of injuries from e-bike collisions. PEER has identified 28 parks that allowed e-bikes on backcountry trails for the first time as a result of the NPS’s maneuvers, including Acadia, Everglades, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

The Benge memo also promises to assemble after-the-fact research, stating:

“To assist superintendents with their decisions, the NPS is working expeditiously with the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center to review relevant e-bike studies and other information and prepare a summary of key findings regarding e-bike use patterns and broad potential resource and visitor impacts. Superintendents should apply relevant information to the specific conditions at their park to inform their decision regarding e-bike use on trails and administrative roads…”

“Scrambling to assemble impact research after its final e-bikes regulation was issued is both a violation of NEPA and bad resource management,” Jenkins added, suggesting that this NPS tactic is aimed to fend off the pending litigation.  “Having inherited so many legal problems, the Park Service under Deb Haaland should not keep trying to salvage a fatally flawed approach but instead go back to the drawing board to do it the right way.”


Read the new Park Service e-bike directive 

Look at looming PEER lawsuit 

See the 28 parks that have allowed e-bikes on backcountry trails

Big Cypress
Big South Fork
Cape Cod
City of Rocks
C&O Canal
Golden Gate NRA
Great Falls
Indiana Dunes
Mammoth Cave
Mesa Verde
Missouri National Recreational River
New River
Point Reyes
Rocky Mountain
San Juan Island National Historical Park
Santa Monica Mountains NRA
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Wrangell-St. Elias
Yukon‐Charley Rivers National Preserve

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