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South Chilcotin Mountain Bike Access in Jeopardy

A Call to Action for BC MTB

Words by Lee Lau.
May 1st, 2014

Land access issues are a common theme for mountain bikers the world over. Here in BC, Provincial parks fall under management plans that are periodically revised (read: every few decades). Mountain bikers have been riding routes in the Chilcotins for a long time, but the area has only been Provincial park since 2010. The management plans for these parks are now being worked out and mountain bike access is in jeopardy.

While as a mountain bike media outlet our viewpoint is obviously skewed toward the seeing the positives of two-wheeled access, I can’t help but note that riders are but one piece of a very large puzzle in the BC Parks infrastructure. It was recently announced that mines and pipeline studies are OK, and power lines and other industrial rights-of-way are granted – yet mountain bikes are being squeezed out of an area that only a handful of people even make it to each year.

Lee Lau has put a lot of effort into interpreting and outlining the South Chilcotin draft management plan, with the intent to educate our readership and hopefully have them engage with the material. The request is that you fill out the online comment form, and if you feel compelled, send a note to your local government or BC Minister of Environment, Mary Polak. Lee’s written a quick synopsis which we’ll lead in with, and if you want to dig in, the details are below.

- Morgan Taylor


A Quick Summary

The Chilcotin is one of the world’s beautiful places to ride mountain bikes in the alpine. It’s now become part of the BC Parks system. BC Parks has put forward a draft plan seeking to regulate and restrict mountain biking in the area.

The BC Parks’s draft plan unfairly singles out mountain bikers as impacting wildlife. The draft plan is based on conjecture, guesswork and is unfair in its recommendations. Please ask BC Parks to make decisions on a science-based factual approach and not just restrict mountain biking because of stereotypes of the mountain bikers.

Comments must be received by May 30, 2014. Send comments HERE.

Background

The South Chilcotin is one of the largest networks of contiguously linked subalpine and alpine singletrack in North America. Located just 5 hours from the major metropolitan area of Vancouver, mountain bikers have been venturing to the area to ride for past few decades. During that time they’ve happily co-existed with other recreational users and wildlife (account from one of the biking pioneers here).

In 2010, the Chilcotins became part of the BC Parks system. Mountain bikers initially viewed this development neutrally hoping that their long-standing use of the park would be recognized and grandfathered, as is generally true for most other user groups. BC Parks began soliciting comments on a plan for the Chilcotin in 2011, closing the initial public input process in early 2012. Comments and actions from Parks and other user groups during that phase alerted mountain bikers that the plan might not be very bike-friendly. The Draft Management Plans for the area have now been released and confirmed this suspicion with language that singles out mountain biking as an unwelcome activity and that proposes to restrict mountain biking.

While the Chilcotin attracts a growing ridership that ridership is without a voice. The purpose of this article is to analyze BC Parks’ draft management plan; explain the ramifications of the plan and to provide some comments. Hopefully other mountain bikers will see fit to also provide comments.

In summary, before 2010, the Chilcotins was not a park. Outdoor recreationalists could freely travel in the Chilcotins in the same way they can in the rest of British Columbia’s crown land. After much of the Chilcotins became a BC Park, BC Parks proposes to limit outdoor recreationalists (with the majority of proposals targeting mountain biking). Parks also proposes to drastically limit floatplane useage; the means by which some mountain bike and hiking day trips are conducted.

Public comments on this draft plan must be received by May 30, 2014 to be considered. See the links coming next as a way to provide public input. There is no geographical restriction on providing input so anyone can provide input … whether you live here, or somewhere else; whether you’ve ridden or want to ride in the Chilcotin.

Please read this link to find out much much more and to provide comments. Please ask the following of BC Parks.

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Cinnabar Basin.

Useful Links

Some useful links are as follows:

- Home page for the Management Plans
- South Chilcotin and Big Creek Draft Management Plan
- Yalakom Draft Management Plan (Mountain biking will be prohibited on 9 Mile Ridge – a trail in this park)
- Online comment form
- PDF comment form

South Chilcotins and Big Creek Draft Management Plan

Relevant portions of the South Chilcotins and Big Creek Draft Management Plan as released for public input on March 19, 2014 (“Draft Plan”) are reproduced below. Italics are the quoted text.

Please note that these are draft documents. The content was prepared in consideration of diverse input on recreational and conservation values. Changes are expected to these drafts based upon further input. Should you wish to provide input, please follow the directions on the webpage above or contact me directly to discuss your concerns or to set up a meeting.

2.5 – pg 15 – Hikers are 2/3rds of the park’s user, biking is 1/3rd. Neglects to mention that many bikers also access day trips and multi-day trips via drive-to trailheads (same as hikers, and same as horseback riders).

Hiking is the most popular recreational activity occurring in the parks. It is estimated that close to two thirds of visitors participate in hiking activities. The trail system allows for hikes of one or two days in areas near the trailheads (Figure 5), or for multi-week hikes for those who wish to explore more remote areas.

Mountain biking has become increasingly popular. An estimated one third of visitors participate in mountain biking while visiting the parks. Warner Lake and Spruce Lake are the main drop-off points for many bikers, who access the park by floatplane and bike out to the Jewel Creek trailhead. A smaller number of bikers also use the other trails throughout the parks.

3.2.2 – pg 22 – singles out mountain bikers as more likely to impact grizzly bears

Hikers and horse riders are more likely to go off-trail and show up in unpredictable times and places, but the slow pace usually alerts bears to their presence well ahead of any encounter. Mountain biking is the most fast-paced activity, and depending upon frequency, time and area of use, has the highest potential for bear/human interactions or disturbance of bears. Interactions between bikers and bears have been documented in the park. All recreational activities within the parks are a potential threat to Grizzly Bear recovery if not carefully managed.

23-24 – re protecting grizzly habitat by closing or moving bike trails

Reduce or minimize human presence in important foraging areas, such as whitebark pine in fall or wetlands in spring and early summer. Move campsites and trails if necessary and possible. Avoid or minimize human presence in areas with concentrations of spring. Grizzly Bear forage areas (Figure 4). Of note are six general areas:

1. Large areas in the southwest corner of South Chilcotin Mountains Park, just outside of the park but also in the pass entering Leckie Creek in the area of Leckie Lakes.
2. The upper portions of North Cinnabar, Pearson, Taylor and Eldorado creeks.
3. The meadows south and west of Spruce Lake and extending north along Spruce Lake Creek.
4. The meadows along the north side of Tyaughton Creek from the confluence of Spruce Lake Creek.
5. The wetland areas in the northern half of Big Creek Park.
6. A large area encompassing much of Big Creek downstream from Lorna Lake to the confluence of Graveyard Creek, lower Grant Creek, Tosh Creek, Graveyard Creek, Little Graveyard Creek, and the area from Dash Hill to the northeast and into Dash Creek to the east.

The high recreational use area of Spruce Lake should receive specific management attention due to the concentration of human activities and proximity to bear habitat. Specific strategies for this area include:
– Any increase in facilities, trails and use within or immediately adjacent to the meadow complexes should be discouraged.

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On bluffs overlooking Eldorado Creek.

pg 26 – contains more restrictions identifying bikes

Specific attention should be put toward mountain biking activity. With input from commercial operators and any other mountain biking organizations, management of mountain biking should focus on:
- Further investigation into the possibility of restricting the timing, location and zoning of biking activity (e.g., make mountain biking predictable by concentrating by area and time, no use before 8:00 am or after 4:00 pm, 3 days a week; avoid any biking in May).
- Agreeing to a “Code of Conduct” on how to avoid conflict with bears or other wildlife and how to respond if wildlife are encountered.
– Monitoring of mountain biking activity.
– Recognition that successful integration of mountain biking and Grizzly Bear recovery will recognize that not all areas of the parks should be available for biking and there is a limit to the number of bikers using specific areas of the parks.

chilcotin-3

Trails overlooking the Bendor Range.

3.2.5 – pg 33 – identifies certain mountain biking guidelines under the “Recreation” heading. Many of these guidelines appear reasonable:

Apply the following guidelines to mountain biking in the parks:
– Cross-country mountain bike riding, rather than downhill, will be the principal form of mountain biking in the parks.
- Development or construction of technical trail features will not be considered.
– Mountain biking will be restricted to existing or future trails; off-trail use will not be permitted.
– Trails used by mountain bikes should have good sight lines on downhill sections (e.g., 3X3m width and height).

pg 34

Work with the local communities and adjacent land managers to provide complementary recreational experiences in adjacent areas (e.g., providing mountain bike trails for those who want a more technical experience).

Use the separation of activities (e.g., use-specific trails in high use areas, twinning trails, timing, location, trail direction, etc.) as a suitable management tool in specific instances, but should not be used as a widespread strategy in the parks. Consider designing some trails for one user type (long sections of such trails should not exclude other users). This will make some trails generally more attractive to one user group, decreasing pressure on more heavily used trails. For example, consider construction of a new Tyaughton Creek trail, primarily for mountain bikers to attract bikers away from more heavily used trails; consider reopening the trail from Windy Pass to the north end of Spruce Lake for bikes only..

Under the heading of obligations undertaken by Tourism and Commercial Operations – pg 37

Encourage a shift from day-use mountain biking (fly in – ride out) to a more leisurely, group oriented, multi-day approach to reduce the potential for wildlife disturbance and conflicts with other users.

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Horses and bikers co-existing.

Analysis

On its face, the Chilcotins Draft Management Plan’s general principles are innocuous but digging deeper there are substantial concerns that impact mountain biking. These are my questions.

Integrity of the Survey

From October 2011 to January 2012, BC Parks conducted an online survey of Chilcotin park users (the “Survey” – results here). 1432 people responded. 55% of people mountain biked. 22% hiked. Note that many people crossed over taking part in more than one activity.

Yet the Draft Plan states that hikers comprise 2/3rds while bikers comprise 1/3rds of users. Can BC Parks explain the discrepancy between the Survey and the Draft Plan?

Singling out Mountain Biking

The plan is redolent of negative bias towards mountain biking in the park. Mountain bikers are singled out as the user group that needs to be controlled in time and scope of activity (3 days/week allowed to bike; only biking between 8am to 4pm). Mountain bikers are singled out as the user group more likely to spook grizzlies. They are the only group which have to be “monitored”. Most troubling is the vague, amorphous and rather alarming statement that parts of the park will be off-limits of bikes in support of grizzly bear recovery. Note that it’s only mountain bikers that would be the endangered species. Not hikers. Not horseback riders.

Can BC Parks explain why it is assumed that mountain bikers are the group which have the most negative impact on wildlife (particularly grizzlies) if Parks contends that mountain bikers are not the most populous user group in the park? Is there proof that mountain bikers have had a negative impact on grizzly bears?

Grizzlies

2% of survey participants list grizzly bear conflicts as being an issue. With the assumption that BC Parks would engage aerial helicopter surveys from local companies I asked local heli companies (Blackcomb, CCH) whether aerial surveys had been conducted; establishing that none had been undertaken.

Cursory research has shown that the only number cited for grizzly populations is 203 from the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Initiative which cites a BC government Ministry of Forests 2012 bear population estimate. That BC Government estimate uses regression analysis modelling estimates on pre-selected variables. It does not rely on actual population counts.

Based on 14 years of experience travelling in the Chilcotin my gut feel was that the 200+ bear numbers was high. I’d expect to have multiple encounters on every trip (which most definitely was not the case)! I took the liberty of asking Warren Menhennick (40+ years of Chilcotin experience) and Jamie Davidson (60+ years of experience) their impressions. To paraphrase both of them were of their opinion that grizzly bears and outdoors recreationalists (whether on bike, foot or horseback) and grizzlies have co-existed in the past and could co-exist in the future.

Both also viewed the 203 grizzly bear estimate claim to be somewhat surprisingly high. Note that the above are unsubstantiated opinions based on real-world observations but do beg the following questions. Are grizzly bear numbers known or are current numbers just a guess? Can BC Parks explain how they intend to base their decisions vis-a-vis grizzly Bears and conflicts with mountain bikers? Will BC Parks inventory the grizzly bear population numbers? Will BC Parks proceed under the assumption that mountain biking and grizzly bears cannot co-exist?

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Manson Creek descent.

Ideas Without (resources for) Implementation

For some time BC Parks has been denuded of resources and generally underfunded (article summarizing funding cuts here) to the extent that outhouses cannot be rebuilt and toilet paper procurement cut. In 2011 there were 10 full time rangers for the entire province. There are a lot of praiseworthy initiatives in the Draft Plan spread among the more dubious negative prescriptions targeting mountain biking. They all share one thing in common; there is no budget to implement them. You will need resources (ie people and dollars) to develop educational and etiquette policies, decommission or relocate trails; police the times and dates that bikes can ride.

Can BC Parks explain how it will deliver on the ideas in the Draft Plan? Does BC Parks think its a good idea to promulgate regulation that is unpoliceable given its (i) lack or resources; and (ii) lack of evidence for such regulation; and (iii) its lack of resources to gather evidence for regulation?

Reasonable Apprehension of Bias

Several comments were made by the Draft Plan and Survey’s author which give pause:

pg 1 Survey – It was known that a campaign was underway by the mountain biking community to provide input to the survey. This is likely the reason for the large number of respondents reporting as participating in biking and should be taken into consideration when viewing the results of this report.

pg 5 Survey – Keeping the park accessable [sic] for all users, and specifically for mountain biking, was the main input for future management. A lower number of recommendations called for removing hunting, setting carrying capacity for use and maintaining access. Again, it must be taken into consideration that most respondents were from the mountain biking community.

These comments are strange in at least a couple of ways. Firstly the reason for the public survey process is to gather as many responses as possible. Why then complain if a user group actually participates in the process and canvasses members to be active in the public process? Secondly, the author ignores the fact that other groups including hikers/mountaineers represented by the FMCBC (initial article & later more tempered submission) and at least some local groups (the Wilderness Stewards f/ka/ Chilcotin Wilderness Society) also actively solicited responses from their respective viewer base (submission here).

Why does BC Parks editorialize in a way to diminish the impact of mountain bikers’ input into the Survey and Draft Plan? To the extent that BC Parks even takes user group’s comments into account, how much impact does the bias in the document have on BC Parks’ recommendations in the Draft Plan?

Undue Influence of Competitors on the Plan

A group of individuals known as the Wilderness Stewardship Foundation made a rather pointed submission to BC Parks during the public comment period. Many of their submissions were directed at regulating mountain biking and regulating floatplane flights into the park.

Many of their prescriptions particularly those targeting the floatplane tourism operator (Tyax Adventures) and targeting mountain biking made their way into the Draft Plan. There is another tourism operator in the Chilcotin competitive to Tyax Adventures — Chilcotin Holidays. It is interesting to note that directors, guests and employees of Chilcotin Holidays are also on the board of the Wilderness Stewards namely the following persons:.

• Helen Williams – has been guest at Chilcotin Holidays (was listed as a director in a 2011-12 cached copy of the Wilderness Stewards website – entry now removed)
• Andre Kuerbis – manager at Chilcotin Holidays (was listed as a director in a 2011-12 cached copy of the Wilderness Stewards website – entry now removed)
• Rob Denier – employed by Chilcotin Holidays as an Outdoor Adventure Specialist.

(Please note that no aspersions are meant to the character of the persons named above. Google searches show the links between such persons and their associations with Chilcotin Holidays).

This leads to the following questions. Does BC Parks know about the ties of the Wilderness Stewards to a tourism operator in the Chilcotins? Why is BC Parks accepting the wholesale recommendations of one competitive outfitter against another outfitter? Is BC Parks being brought into the tactics of a competitor seeking to outmaneuver another tourism operator (Chilcotin Holdays vs Tyax Adventures? Is BC Parks concerned about the optics of seemingly adopting the role of advocating on behalf of a specific operator in the Parks they are attempting to regulate?

Germane references from the Wilderness Stewards submission which found their way into the BC Parks Draft Plan follow:

Tyax Air References
——————
pg 2 – Limitation of fly-in access within the park.

pg 10 – Ensure that efforts are made to minimize impacts of facility developments and visitor use on wildlife habitats or disturbance of wildlife. Aircraft use, helicopter use and other uses must be regulated to eliminate or reduce impacts.

pg 12 – To limit and regulate aircraft use in the park.
- Monitor aircraft use and impose restrictions to prevent environmental or social impacts.

pg 18 – Use will be monitored and operational measures may be applied to manage and limit visitor use if required to maintained the desired use levels. Measures could include longer hike-in routes, restricted air access, and user fees for visitors.

Mountain Biking References
——————-
- pgs 15 – 16
- Establish a zoning system for trails and designate trails for combination use or exclusive use:
– Designate trails that lead to the Chilcotin Holidays guest ranch as “horse use only”
– Lick Creek Trail
– B&F Creek Trail
Editorial note – Lick Creek and B & F trails are used by bikes. The effect of this proposal would be to close them to bikes for the benefit of Chilcotin Holidays.

Mountain Biking is a relatively new use form within the park area. As a form of non-motorized use, it will continue to be allowed in the park area. Limitations for suitability (wet soils, enclosed trails, etc.) apply to mountain bike use and management decisions must be made to reduce conflicts with other users.
Objective :
• To allow mountain bike use throughout the park within acceptable levels of impacts to trails, social experience and the environment.
• To resolve user conflicts between mountain bikers and other users of the trail system

Strategies :

• Permit Mountain Bike use within the park area. Mountain Bike use should not be promoted.
• Establish a zoning system for trails and designate trails for combination use or exclusive use:
– Day use zoning: Establish, designate and maintain Mountain Bike use only trails around
Tyax Lodge:
– On North and South ridges of Crane Creek
– On North and South ridges of North Cinnabar Creek
– Taylor Creek and Pearson creek mining roads, both multi use trails
– Fly-in day use: Establish, designate and maintain a new primary “Mountain Bike use only” trail from Spruce Lake to Tyax Lodge:
– From Spruce Lake Creek Trail
– Down Tyaughton Creek Trail leading East
– Connecting Mud Creek FSR leading South
– To Tyaughton Lake Road FSR
– Arriving at Tyax Lodge
– Multi-day use: everywhere on the park’s existing trail system
– Fly-in access points for multi-day use on Warner Lake and Lorna Lake
• Mountain bike use should be monitored and, if use and related impacts dictate, portions of
the park may be closed to this activity.

Effect on Trail Maintenance

The BC Parks plan has many recommendations for trail work, trail realignment and trail closures. Most readers will view those prescriptions dubiously given the paucity (absence?) of Park’s resources. Another consequence of BC Parks’ recommendations is that the restrictions they will impose on floatplane flights (reduced hours of operations, limited flights per week) will probably put Tyax Adventures out of business. Tyax Adventures is a major contributor to trail maintenance and upkeep in the Chilcotins (so is Chilcotin Holidays for the record).

Does BC Parks have a plan to do trail maintenance and upkeep trails once their Draft Plan puts Tyax Adventures out of business? Does BC Parks have resources to implement such a plan?

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Eldorado Creek cabin – built, maintained by Tyax Adventures who also maintains the trails/bear caches around the area.

Summary and Comments Required

To repeat the summary, before 2010, the Chilcotins was not a park. Outdoor recreationalists could freely travel in the Chilcotins in the same way they can in the rest of British Columbia’s crown land. After much of the Chilcotins became a BC Park, BC Parks proposes to limit outdoor recreationalists (with the majority of proposals targeting mountain biking). Parks also proposes to drastically limit floatplane useage; the means by which some mountain bike and hiking day trips are conducted.

BC Parks has a lamentable reputation in accommodating mountain biking as a valid form of recreational use of parks. It seems that mountain bikers are a pariah user-group in the eyes of Parks. The recent farcical Garibaldi Park amended management plan exercise where public input was solicited then ignored was emblematic of this process (article re draft plan then final plan where survey numbers were cooked). The Chilcotin Draft Plan unfortunately seems to continue down this path.

At this point in time BC Park’s process has done much to demonstrate that they are at best ambivalent and at worst, hostile to mountain biking. My input on the Draft Plan is that it needs a more measured approach that does not single out mountain biking as the problem group. If you agree with some or all of the analysis in this article please feel free to ask the following of BC Parks.

• Why are user group breakdowns so different from Survey to Draft Plan?
• Why does the Draft Plan single out mountain bikers as the group that will most negatively impact wildlife?
• From where does BC Parks establish grizzly bear population numbers?
• Is there proof that mountain bikers have a negative impact on grizzly bears?
• If grizzly bear population numbers are based on estimates, is it appropriate to single out and limit one user group (mountain bikers) based on what amounts to guesses?
• From where will BC Parks will get resources to implement its policy recommendations?
• Why does the Draft Plan author seem to be so apprehensive of mountain bikers’ interest in responding to the Survey?
• What impact did Chilcotin Holidays have on Draft Plan recommendations?
• If the Draft Plan puts Tyax Air out of business how will BC Parks replace the trail maintenance hole left behind?

In my opinion, this is not just a mountain biking issue. If you had a commercial operation, or were a hiker, mountaineer, ski-tourer, sledder, heli or float-plane-accessed any Crown land anywhere in this province and that land became a BC Park you should be concerned about how BC Parks is handling this process. Again, anyone living anywhere can comment. Be polite but do not hesitate to be pointed. Here are the comment forms:

- Online comment form
- PDF comment form


  • levil

    and i thought we only had to deal with that type of bs in the states (im from washington) i really wanna ride the chilcotin some day!

  • t.odd

    unelected bureaucrats making wholesale decisions while ignoring facts, lacking in scientific proof, and wholly lacking in accountability.

    • boomforeal

      ladies and gentlemen, your bc government!

  • Kevin Johnstone

    Thanks for the great info Lee Lau. I’ve filled out the comment section on the B.C. parks page.

  • Mathew Reynolds

    While I agree with the strategies outlined in the article, a few of the arguments are weak – even hyperbolic. Stipulations about competing conflicts of interests have no place in our communities rebuttal, this is better left to the lawyers, else we be made to look like squabbling children. The comment about BC Parks negatively viewing response due to a mountain bike bias is not unfounded – elected representatives have a right to know about any bias that exists in the data. Never make the argument that the bias only exists cause we are the most interested party – we are only the loudest party – and people need to know that to make informed decisions.

    Furthermore, I appreciate the anecdotal evidence provided from people with “lots of experience”, and their input is important to form the emotional coexisting fluffy side of the argument. But, sadly, No. of years participating in a hobby doesn’t make you an expert on coexisting with wildlife – it makes you complacent to the bigger picture.

    The unfortunate part is, biking absolutely impacts the environment. As the population of our sport increases so will its impact. There will be a time that nature reserves will need to forbid the erosion machines that bikes are for the greater good of the community as whole. Is this the right time for the Chilcotins, probably not – and I think ‘our’ strategies ultimately portray this. I just wish the argument was more natural.

    • Lee Lau

      Your comment reeks of apologism. The BC Parks plan was redolent of conflict of interest. A large part of of the plan was essentially written by a tourism operator who wants another tourism operator gone. You would roll over and take that in the chin? That’s your choice to kowtow to the joke that is the government organization entrusted to govern the parks of this province.

      The comment about bias in the numbers is also illogical and makes utterly no sense. This was a public process designed to elicit public input. There was a campaign by mountain bikers to collect responses. There was also a campaign by hiking groups to collect responses. For the Parks Planner to question the public input as biased merely because the public actually participated in the public process says a lot about the Parks Planner biases.

      Never did I argue that mountain biking did not impact the environment. I am arguing that mountain bikers are singled out on subjective biases bases. Please do me the courtesy of not putting words in my mouth.

      Thanks for the input. I wish I could say it was meaningful

  • pano-dude

    our government is a joke, give the ok to build a year round resort in the heart of grizzly territory in the jumbo drainage but then propose to keep a non-motorized user group out of another….

  • Dana Wildlassiskier Foster

    Too many float plane drops at Spruce Lake- some days it’s non-stop everyday of the week. Also saw the most idiotic behaviour at Spruce Lake by large group of mtn.bikers. Mother Grizzly and two cubs were foraging near the campsite(major habitat corridor). Group was cooking Bacon- three bears came very close to their site. Instead of giving the bears space- most of the group grabbed their cameras and went after the bears. The valley is narrow there and it contains irreplaceable habitat at specific times of the year for Grizzly Bears.

    I do not see setting place and time restrictions for mountain biking activities as having a detrimental impact on this type of use in the South Chilcotin Parks. Business will still flourish for tourism operators possibly making conditions for their success even better.

    I live and work in bear habitat and have been a dedicated mtn biker for three decades- nearly all of the closest and most sudden encounters with bears has been on a bike. Except for a super intense encounter ski mountaineering in May in Wells Gray Park.

    Perhaps much of the Grizzly population in the SC are somewhat habituated to fast moving bikes (I also own and ride horses which is a much slower activity) but is habituation of wildlife in Class A parks a worthy goal?