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Bikes in Boundary Waters bill passes House committee

A bill that would allow wheeled devices in federal wilderness areas — including bikes, wheelbarrows and motorized wheelchairs — passed a House committee Wednesday in Washington.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee voted 22-18 in favor of the bill that applies to all 110 million acres of U.S. wilderness area, potentially including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Isle Royale.

The bill initially failed 19-15 on Wednesday but committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who supports the bill, initially voted no so the bill could be reconsidered just moments later when more Republicans showed up to vote.

Supporters of the bill say the goal is only to allow the possibility of wheels in wilderness, that specific agency land managers could move to ban specific vehicles, and that backcountry bike riders were simply seeking the same experience that hikers and horseback riders already are allowed.

But critics of the bill, including a coalition of 133 environmental and recreation groups from across the U.S., say the legislation will open the door to exactly the kind of mechanized devices that Congress sought to ban when it created federal wilderness areas in 1964.

Critics of the bill also note that the 1990 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act already allowed wheelchairs in wilderness areas.

It's not clear when the bill might go to the full House for final passage. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., a staunch advocate of multiple uses, including mining and motorized vehicles, on federal land. So far there is no similar legislation in the Senate.