Monday, June 18, 2012

That's a Sinnotty attitude

I wish longtime Anchorage wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott had never retired, because when he was dealing with troublesome bears and moose, he was too busy to dabble in writing columns for a local news website.

As a writer, Sinnott makes a good biologist.

His anti-bike diatribe on the Alaska Dispatch site this week was a sorry piece of work. If you want to read it, you’ll have to look it up, because I won’t be linking to that lame little manifesto. It was an ineloquent rant by a guy who enjoys birding in his spare time and thinks anyone who rides a mountain bike on singletrack is a gonzo-crazed adrenalin junkie who doesn’t really value the outdoors. (We can’t all spend our weekends stalking yellow warblers.)

The column drips with sarcasm, and blames recent moose encounters on Singletrack Advocates for building a new Kincaid Park trail network that Sinnott describes as “a race track in the woods. A moose-begotten motocross.”

Sinnott can be forgiven for having a soft spot for big critters. In his old job, the guy killed enough bears and moose to get damn sick and tired of having to do it. Unfortunately, his usual response to any human/animal conflict became a predictable call for humans to stay away from wildlife habitat.

Sinnott’s advice always reminds me of the joke about the old man who went to the clinic and said, “Doc, it hurts when I do this,” so his doctor simply replied, “Well, stop doing that.”

Staying out of wildlife habitat isn’t always practical for anyone who lives in Alaska and wants to hike, run or pedal a bike during our extremely short summers. Besides, moose encounters are nothing new at Kincaid. They didn’t start because Singletrack Advocates built some new trails. Ask any runner, Nordic skier or mountain biker who has used the park for a few years, and you’ll get an earful of stories about close calls

Thanks for your heartfelt criticism of our sport, Mr. Sinnott. And for the touching advice to make sure we have good health insurance policies.

Some of us will no doubt choose to avoid the park during certain parts of the season, while others of us will just keep taking our chances and being as careful as we can. We accept a certain amount of risk with animals just like we accept the risk of falling off our bikes, and the danger of car accidents while driving across town to the trailhead.

We’ll try to avoid trouble, but we won’t cower from it. If we wanted to do that, we’d sell our bikes and take up birding.


Anonymous said...

This? Is one of the best WRITTEN middle-finger-salutes I've ever encountered.

Hat's off to you. I couldn't have said it better.

wfinley said...

Sinnott's article ( is hardly anti-bike. His chief concern is stated at the end of his article: "I'm a proponent of risky sports, so long as the practitioners are fully apprised of the risk. Moose are part of the risk on Anchorage's singletrack trails. I just hope Anchorage residents don’t turn on moose because singletrack trails have almost singlehandedly increased the number of attacks."

A quick perusal of the MTBR forums will show that Sinnot's fear is justified. When people start questioning ADF&G's science in regards to moose population and suggesting guns to shoot cow moose with newborn calves it shows that bikers are at risk of becoming yet another Alaskan user-group who value their own thrills and desires over community desires as a whole.

Neglecting to acknowledge that your sport has impacts beyond your little circle of friends ensues that the public will have very little sympathy for you.

Tim said...

I beg to differ. His article was very derogatory in its references to mountain bikers on singletrack, and accused riders of being more into thrills than the outdoors.

And citing comments made by some of the crackpots on an Internet forum is hardly a way to measure public opinion. At least one of the people Sinnott quoted in his comment is a forum user who is incapable of posting without coming off as a complete dick. That guy certainly isn't representative of my view.

Most mountain bikers I know are fully aware that moose are a risk, and they accept those risks with no animosity toward the animals. I don't ride with anyone who doesn't value the large wildlife we have in Anchorage.

My criticism was focused on the poor structure of Sinnott's column and argument, and his obvious derision for mountain biking.

There is a good discussion to be had regarding the risk of increased moose encounters shaping public opinion in a way that is harmful to the local moose population, but I don't believe that was the point of Sinnott's story. If it was, he failed to make that clear, and I read the story three times.

What he ended up with was a rant about his opinion that mountain bikers are asking for trouble by riding to fast, and building trails in moose habitat.

wfinley said...

I think you're reading too much into his article in regards to his take on mountain biking. As a non-biker I didn't think his article was derogatory of bikers. Sure he went over the top with the thrills description - but many hikers would say the same thing. I felt like his point was primarily about moose encounters shaping public opinion and secondarily about the attitude of bikers.

However I don't mountain bike so I'm not sensitive to such portrayals.

As for forums... land managers and policy makers are increasing turning to public forums, blogs and comments as a method of sampling public opinion. Sinnott even points to the MTBR forums in the comments of his article. Such posters might not be representative of riders as a whole but they are vocal and their comments are out there for everyone to see.

Unknown said...

His article seems unfocused and rambling. He starts out talking about moose vs bike, but brings in moose vs. motorcycle and t-shirt sales in a state thousands of miles away; kid vs. moose; changes in the Anchorage School District calendar, then discusses bike vs. vehicle accidents...none of which directly support his argument that singletrack trails are increasing moose encounters.
He also makes points with no back-up, such as "Some are unwilling to tolerate moose on the trail," and "Some may conclude moose don't belong in Alaska's biggest city."
As an editor I would have rejected this article, and I agree, as a writer, he makes a good biologist.

The Grouch said...

but he fails to mention, for example, the singletrack network built by STA on the hillside which has been there for over three years without problems. Also brings up the bear mauling on Rover's Run four years ago, then brings up the mauling a year or two ago that involved a commuter and did not happen on Rovers Run as he claimed.

He quotes out of context and misrepresents what singletrack trails are. He also fails to mention that Kincaid Park, because it is surrounded by urban land has less predators for moose which is hardly natural.

Finally, if his concern is that people may decide that moose don't belong in the city I suggest he starts addressing the ADN readership which responds to any and all wildlife incidents with calls for hunts and general extermination. Rather than mountainbikers, as a quick perusal to the mtbr forums will show that most mountainbikers are quick to defend the presence of moose in Anchorage.