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Following is the letter I sent to the Commissioners and various Agency staff several weeks ago. These are the reasons I believe e-bikes should be legal.

Dear Game Commission Board Member,

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to express my thoughts on the proposal that would legalize e-bikes on the game lands.

First I would like to say that my thoughts are based on decades of experience as a Wildlife Conservation Officer in a remote big woods district as well as even more decades of hunting and conservation experience. I understand the legalization of e-bikes could be a controversial issue among not only hunters but also Agency Staff and the Board of Commissioners.

I will say right up front that I favor the legalization of e-bikes for a number of reasons. Reasons that I will attempt to address in this correspondence.

The average age of hunters has been increasing for some time now. We all know we have seen a decline in hunter numbers over the past couple decades. Much of that decline is due to the older hunters aging and dropping from the hunter ranks. Often as hunters’ age they drop out of hunting, especially deer and bear hunting. Often because it is getting too hard for them to get back in to the areas they long to hunt. That is also partly from knowing they would have a hard time getting their harvest out if they were successful.

I believe the legalization of e-bikes would not only keep more of us older hunters in the hunter ranks longer but would also allow us the ability to get our harvests out of the more remote and deep woods settings were higher harvests are frequently needed to reach the best management objectives.

That getting back in then back out is also a factor with trappers, both old or young, being able or willing to go deeper into the more remote areas to trap beaver, coyotes or other furbearing species. Often the decline in beaver trapping results in more beaver complaints and problems for the Game Commission. Allowing trappers deeper access could help with future beaver complain mitigation in some areas.

Hunters complain all the time about too many coyotes and other predators. Though that complaint could be unfounded and never ending regardless of predator hunting and trapping efforts, there is certainly no reason it wouldn’t be beneficial to have trappers going deeper into the more remote areas of our game lands, and other public lands, in their quest and harvesting of predators and furbearers. It could only result in better management of our resources to have hunters and trappers able and willing to go deeper into the more remote and least utilized area of our Commonwealth.

Some have the perception that harvesting game deep in the remote area, especially from a bicycle hunt, would only make it more difficult to get the game out. That simply isn’t true for many of us. I have been using a pedal mountain bike to bring both deer and turkeys out of remote areas for a couple decades. I would probably do the same to bring a bear out too if I ever get that lucky. I set my bike so I could attach a deer cart and it works well on reasonably level game lands road. But, as I age there are more and more limits on how far and over how steep of terrain I will go to harvest game with the intent of bringing it out with the bike and cart. The legalization of e-bikes would certainly expand the range of both distance and terrain I, as well as other older hunters, would be able to continue hunting.

It can be, and already is being, argued that hunters who walk in deep, to get away from other hunters, would be offended if they walked in while someone come in on an e-bike. Though that argument might appear to have some merit it has always been a fact that other hunters can and at least occasionally will still get into the remote areas where they interfere with the solitude of another hunter. It is also a fact that every year the Game Commission field officers get more and more complaints and requests from hunters to open more gates and roads to allow hunters better access to the more remote areas of the game lands. Over the years many of those requests have been honored and we have seen an increase in roads being opened to hunters as well as for longer time periods of the hunting season. So, now I have to ask. For those hunters that want an uninterrupted and remote hunt, which will they find more intrusive, another hunter going by on an e-bike or a four-wheel truck that is perhaps bearing several hunters?

It is entirely possible that the legalization of e-bikes would at least slow the request and demands for more miles of road being opened to hunters. That could at least provide a viable argument on why some roads should still remain closed to public gas powered motor vehicles. That could also help in saving money being spent on road maintenance in the future.

Now for perhaps some of the even bigger reasons why e-bikes should be legalized, at least for hunters.

E-bikes are already being used on the game lands and other public land and in ever increasing numbers. That trend is going to continue whether the Game Commission passes the proposal to make them legal or not. Often the use is from non-hunters who have no idea they are even on game lands and even less knowledge they are doing something illegal or wrong. But, more and more hunters are also getting e-bikes. Even though most hunters probably know they aren’t legal, on game lands, as time goes on more and more of them will take their chances on not getting caught and use them anyway, much as we witnessed back when ATVs were becoming increasingly popular.

It could be argued that you could just increase the law enforcement and prosecute those riding the e-bikes illegally. But, don’t forget the fact I have been around law enforcement for decades, so I know the reality of that line of thinking. First of all the Game Wardens are spread way too time and too taxed in other responsibilities to work illegal off road and e-bike patrols. In reality legal enforcement control of the issue just isn’t going to happen.

Even when the officers do catch someone, usually incidentally while doing something else, they have to make a decision whether to warn or cite. If they cite a recreational user, one who possibly had no idea they were doing something wrong, it will result in ill-will toward both the officer and the Game Commission as an agency. If the recreational user is cited and takes a hearing there is a high probability they will not be found guilty by the court system once they argue they had no idea they were doing something illegal.

Currently the Game Wardens are instructed not to cite anyone for riding an e-bike on the game lands unless they have been previously issued a warning. But, if a person knows they are in violation, as most hunters do or at least should know, shouldn’t they be cited for knowingly violating the law? Doesn’t that set up a situation where the people most likely to be cited and convicted of using an e-bike would be the hunters? Those who bought and maintain the land as well as pay for the enforcement of the land and resources, with their license dollars. Are hunters the ones who should be denied access with an e-bike while the non-paying users get the free ride (no pun intended though implied).

I could go on and on but I believe I have hit on some of the major reasons e-bikes should be legal. Nor do I believe the subject should be tabled again. I know it is a tough decision and one that will undoubtedly be controversial for many, no matter which way you vote and decide to take the agency on this issue. But, the ever increasing use of e-bikes on the game lands, by both hunters and non-hunters, is an issue that isn’t going to decline, nor one that can be controlled with enforcement. So, why penalize the legal hunters while the non-hunters and illegal hunters get to enjoy the game lands in ways we hunters can’t yet are paying for?

Thank you for your consideration of my thoughts on this subject.

Respectfully,

Dick Bodenhorn, WCO retired
 

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I'm willing to bet there are exemptions with a rail to trail running thru game lands just like the AT running thru game lands. As long as riders stay on the RTT, their e-bikes are legal, providing they are legal there to start with.

I could possibly see class 1 bikes as you need to pedal to get motor assistance, but never a class 2 bike which will go without peddling. But really uf you need an e-bike, start getting in shape now instead of whining once hunting season starts.
There are no exceptions for motor vehicles on rails to trails systems that are part of the game lands and that is perhaps part of the problem. The rails to trails system on the local game lands was once private property right through the heart of the game lands. The rails to trails people brokered and bought the property then turned it over to the ownership of the Game Commission with the stipulation the rails to trails always be open to hikers and bicycles. Now a significant percentage of the bikes you see on it are e-bikes. If the Game Commission starts enforcing no e-bikes on it there is going to be storm that will not turn out well for anyone.

As for the get in shape now argument. It doesn't really hold water in the case in which many of us want them to be legal. I can take my mountain bike in deep over some pretty steep terrain without issue. But if I kill a deer back in those places it just isn't practical because getting it out becomes more of an issue than I am willing to tackle as a hunt alone hunter in his seventies. So, I do go as deep as I would if I could use the e-bike and cart bringing a deer out. Last year I killed one over mile in with no snow on the ground in archery season and brought it out on the mountain and cart but that was over fairly level ground. No problem. But, there are some places that really should have a higher deer harvest were I nor most other people are going to kill deer simply because it is too hard to bring them out. Allowing e-bikes would result in more hunters being willing to hunt the very places we need more hunters and higher deer harvests.

Dick Bodenhorn
 

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All e-bikes continue to be prohibited everywhere on game lands, including on roads normally open to public travel.
Can someone please explain this to me? I can't take an ebike where others can drive a car???

I fail to see the logic in that. So I can take my street-legal, loud, knobby-tired dual sport up and down the road, but not an ebike. Got it.
 

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There are no exceptions for motor vehicles on rails to trails systems that are part of the game lands and that is perhaps part of the problem.
I can understand allowing e-bikes on the RTT system going thru game lands since that land was gifted to the GC, and totally understand not fining them. But I would also hope there are signs reminding those riders that e-bikes are not allowed on GL roads/trails. Maybe even signs where no riding is allowed, especially during hunting season.

Allowing e-bikes would result in more hunters being willing to hunt the very places we need more hunters and higher deer harvests.
Why not also add more doe permits, and open more roads? I know many hunters walking more than a mile back during rifle season, even see the carts they take with them while I'm out walking around to move deer. Some gated roads would be a problem with lots of vehicles during rifle season, but could be open for archery and overlapping seasons that dont get as much pressure.
 

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They have been opening more roads and for longer periods of the hunting seasons. But, that too creates complaints from hunters who want a more quality experience by getting away from the motor vehicle crowds. Having more roads open to full size motor vehicles also results in additional road maintenance and expense that is then footed by the hunters.

The mitigation of those factors was part of the reason I believe allowing hunters to use e-bikes instead of opening more roads would be the better option for at least some areas.

Dick Bodenhorn
 

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As far as e-bikes the Game Commission now has some real enforcement problems on their hands if they find them in use on the game lands.

The digest on page 16, under Electronic Devices, declares that class 1 and 2 are legal anywhere on game lands while hunting, trapping or fishing.

Can't see any judge finding anyone guilty of riding them, while doing one of those three things, from this point forward.

Dick Bodenhorn
 
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