New Lawsuit Filed Over Allowing Ebikes In National Parks

National Park Service overstepped in issuing access order, suit charges.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah.Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

In the latest legal move over ebike access on federal lands, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a coalition of four conservation groups have filed suit against the National Forest Service over the agency’s order allowing electric bicycles on NFS roads and trails where traditional bikes are permitted. NPS announced the change August 30.

The shift in regulation followed the signing of an order by US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt essentially classifying Class 1, 2, and 3 ebikes as “non-motorized” vehicles on lands managed by Department of Interior agencies, which include the NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.

PEER is a service organization for public employees who work to protect the environment. The other plaintiffs in the suit seeking to overturn the NPS order include Wilderness Watch, the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Marin Conservation League, and Save Our Seashore.

The suit charges that NPS violated its own regulations by applying blanket permission for ebikes instead of revising existing policy, and did not conduct legally required environmental reviews. The suit also says then Deputy NPS Director P. Daniel Smith did not have the authority to issue the order, and that the Department of Interior and NPS met privately or held conference calls at least quarterly with an industry-led entity known as the “E-bike Partner & Agency Group” that lobbied for ebike deregulation at the DOI. Those meetings violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the plaintiffs argue, in part because they were not open to other participants or announced in the Federal Register.

“This ebikes order illustrates an improper and destructive way to manage our National Parks,” PEER executive director Tim Whitehouse, a former enforcement attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency, stated in a news release. “Concerned groups and individuals are joining PEER in demanding that the Park Service follow the normal regulatory processes and assess the additional impacts that higher-speed ebike riders pose both to other trail users and to wildlife in the parks.”

In an email to Cycle Volta, Mike Litterst, acting chief of public affairs and chief spokesperson for NPS, wrote: “National parks provide visitors opportunities to experience the outdoors through recreational opportunities that are accessible, desirable, and relatable to people of all abilities, and clarifying National Park Service policy for the use of e-bikes is aligned to this mission. This policy enhances fun and healthy recreational opportunities for visitors to our national parks and support active transportation options. We strongly disagree with the premise of PEER’s lawsuit and will continue to work with park superintendents to implement our common-sense ebikes policy.”

PEER’s lawsuit includes a “non-exhaustive” list of NPS lands that have issued notices saying ebikes are now allowed where traditional bikes are permitted:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
  • Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado and Utah
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial, North Carolina
  • John Muir National Historic Site, California
  • Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, California
  • City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho
  • Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, North Carolina
  • Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia
  • Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
  • North Cascades National Park Service Complex, Washington
  • Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Death Valley National Park, California
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah