Touring Yellowstone on an e-bike seems preferable to using a car. But can e-bikes actually hurt the environments they allow us to explore?
In 2019, near the end of the Trump administration, then–Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed national parks to allow e-bikes wherever traditional bikes were allowed. The nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sued, arguing that NPS needed to undertake an environmental assessment before it finalized its e-bike policy, and a US district judge agreed. In June of this year, the NPS finally came out with its assessment, and it has people on both sides of the debate riled up.
The gist of the assessment is that riding an e-bike on a trail isn’t much more harmful to soil, vegetation, and wildlife than hiking, horseback riding, or traditional bicycle riding. National cycling advocacy group People for Bikes agrees.
But PEER, the organization that brought the lawsuit, has found fault with the NPS’s assessment. PEER says that the NPS has not adequately addressed the potential for e-bikes to disturb wildlife and that the vehicles create conflicts between e-bike riders and other people on the trail.
Balancing climate goals and local conservation can be complex. As we’ve written before, e-bikes, and subsidies to purchase them, could limit car dependence—an important step for staving off climate change. But local environments, especially in national parks, need to be protected, too. We’ve written before about idiots who deface our most precious wilderness areas, and the NPS assessment raises the question of whether to rank e-bike riders among them.
You can read the full review here.