Saturday, 9 September 2017

Mountain Bike Trail Building is Not Sustainable

Mountain Bike Trail Building is Not Sustainable

Posted on February 7, 2014 at 2:45 PM
GUEST POST by Elise Roberts, North Vancouver, BC

Mountain Bike Trail Building is Not Sustainable

While I appreciate mountain bike trail building initiatives, I continue to have concerns about our rainforest ecosystem both on Vancouver's North Shore, in B.C. and in sensitive ecosystems across Canada.  I strongly advocate that funding be allocated for environmental impact studies in areas that have been negatively impacted by mountain bike trail building in collaboration with community environmental groups. This should automatically be part of the initial processes on Provincial, Regional, Federal and Municipal lands. 

The issue if negative environmental impacts remain prominent, made clear by many of the images and comments I read on the various local mountain biking web sites.   It seems as if profit is taking a priority over the environment when it comes to the growing number of businesses that sell mountain bikes.  Many more resources are needed to help protect our precious rainforest ecosystem and its important biodiversity.   You will find an interesting and helpful document on “Being Species at Risk Wise on the Trail,” on the web site of the South Coast Conservation Program.

·         The heavily used mountain bike trails are not sustainable, a word too frequently used, because trails have to be repaired once or twice a year with all the rain.  The word "sustainable" means something that lasts.  Re-alignment actually means a new trail.   With approximately 40 trails on Fromme Mountain, for example,  that means large crews going into the forest to dig approximately 4 times a month and that IS a lot of disturbance.  Now consider all the other mountains on the North Shore, and the long term impact across B.C. and Canada.

·        To build new trails, 3 feet deep holes in the ground are dug for gold dirt, and new trail alignment areas through the understory are cut.  When not refilled, the steep slopes on the sides can trap amphibians. In fact, this is one of the methods that biologist use to catch them.

·         This constant re-routing and braiding of trails is widely known to disturb salamander habitat and fragment small mammal migratory and feeding areas.
·         Old areas are replanted, but not with native plants that have been purchased, plants are dug up in one area and just replanted in another, creating even more disturbance.

·         The organic top duff layer of soil is an essential component to a healthy forest.   It contains everything from the rooting network of surrounding trees to important fungal networks and many invertebrates, so important to the food chain of birds and other animals that depend on them for food.  Constant digging around trees can negatively impact these important relationships and dependencies between trees and fungi.

·         Giant old downed rotting cedars that have more microscopic life in them than live trees and that are essential to soil health and biodiversity of the forest continue to be cut.   I have seen areas where smaller live trees were cut instead of bringing in natural wooden construction materials.

·         Often trail work happens right through bird nesting season.  

·         There was a recent image on a web site of a group building a structure over a small wetland and standing in it, compacting the soils. 

·         There is no enforcement of night riding and I still do not know whether this is permitted or not.  The lights on the helmets are as bright as airplanes.  Consider how this interrupts bats and other nocturnal mammals and birds. 

·         There are ample resources on the web site regarding how mountain bike trail building can put rare plants at risk.

·         Who supervises large groups of trail builders and how familiar are they with these aforementioned issues?

·         Are people instructed what to do if they disturb salamander or small mammal nest?   1 photo was shown of a salamander in the glove of one of the trail builders, so what happened after that?  Did they keep digging in that area? Are areas inspected for bird nests, salamander and mammal dens before the work begins?

·         Regardless of the partnerships that have been created, rogue trail builders continue to build, they are never held accountable, and in fact are rewarded for this behaviour because their trails eventually become sanctioned trails.


1.      Research other types of materials and techniques for trail building that are more sustainable and that do not require digging large holes in the forest floor for gold dirt. 

2.      Bring in natural rock and wooden materials to use for trail building which eliminates the needs for digging and cutting into downed trees.  Some jurisdictions prohibit the use of surrounding forest material to build trails.  With all the funding from corporations why aren’t funds being used to purchase natural materials instead?

3.      Eliminate the need for transplanting understory plants by purchasing native plants. This no more puts the forest at risk of invasive plant seeds being accidentally carried in, than does the 100’s of bike tires that come from elsewhere.

4.      Initiate small mammal and amphibian studies in areas that have been impacted.

5.     Improve enforcement of night riding (not just parking tickets).

Below is a recent image of a trail that was considered “sustainable.”
"Gold dirt" pit, mined off-trail
Muddy MTB Trail

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