Scapegoating Mountain Bikers

There is a small but determined group of people claiming to protect wilderness by scapegoating mountain biking and mountain bikers.  Their normal tactic is to highlight one or two absolutely true—but nonetheless isolated—facts about how mountain bikers are a threat to wildlife in particular areas to suggest that mountain biking should be banned to protect wilderness/wildlife.  On the surface, this seems appealing.  But the problem is that once you scratch the surface this is a highly chauvinistic approach that involves absolving hikers/backpackers/horseback riders/etc. from their own threats to wilderness/wildlife.  This can be detected even in the language that these self-styled protectors of wilderness use.  The best is “backcountry”.  This is a term that denotes at least limited openness to hiking/camping/homesteading!  When deployed in conjunction with words like “protecting”, what we see is not a plea to protect wildlife and wilderness, but to protect certain human uses in certain sparsely populated areas from certain other human uses thus reserving those areas for selected uses.  Here is an article that sums up this phenomenon:  “Griz Expert Says Mountain Bikes Are a Threat To Montana’s Bears.”  (actually, the headline was changed in response to some of the negative feedback).  It is worth reading the comments because people absolutely nail the author’s anti-bike bias (which the author explicitly denies!) and cite countervailing evidence that the author ignores or actively minimizes.  This article is not isolated, though.  People like George Wuerthner write similarly—for instance, he deplores the self-identities that mountain bikers and ATV operators cultivate but excludes from his scorn the self-identities that hikers, etc. cultivate (he does note in passing that hikers can also harm wilderness, but minimizes those admissions and quickly returns to biker-bashing scapegoating).  This is basically typical political liberalism: policing the line between the community of the free (the “good” hikers/backpackers/etc.) and those unworthy of liberal freedoms (the “bad” mountain bikers).  What is pernicious is that this is “discourse of the university”, that is, the advancement of normative political/ideological positions in support of a disguised mode of social domination.