Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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ATV bills could see floor action in House, Senate

Associate Editor

St. Paul Measures to address the use of all-terrain vehicles on
state forest lands could come to a vote in both the state House and
Senate this week.

Late Monday, state Sen. Jane Krentz, DFL-May Twp., held a
hearing at which ATV proponents, opponents, and those somewhere in
between, could voice their thoughts.

“We needed a real discussion about the issue,” she said.

During the legislative session, concerns have been raised about
ATV use in state forest, and the destruction caused by those
machines that venture off forest roads and trails. Currently, ATV
operators on the majority of state forests face few operating
restrictions. Conservation groups want the “cross-country” activity
to cease.

A Senate bill, sponsored by Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls,
and co-sponsored by Krentz, would increase funding to build and
maintain trails, as well as to conduct environmental assessments of
potential trails. In addition, the bill now would include funding
for three conservation officers whose responsibility would be
monitor ATV trail activity.

Krentz said the hiring of COs would be possible even in light of
a current hiring freeze. The funding for COs, she said, would come
not from the state’s General Fund, but from a funding source
dedicated for ATV and similar trails.

The House bill, sponsored by Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, includes
similar funding appropriations for ATV trail efforts. However, the
House bill also bans with exceptions for big game seasons
cross-country travel on state forest land.

Hackbarth said his bill merely returns language to the statutes
that was eliminated two years ago to ensure big game hunters could
use ATVs. This bill would state that ATVs stay on established
trails or roads, yet address the issue of ATV use during
hunting.

Krentz said it’s possible a similar ban, maybe as an amendment
to the Senate bill, is possible on the floor. Sen. John Hottinger,
DFL-Mankato, has been behind a push for the ban.

The state DNR last week issued a press statement saying it
backed legislation that would put a stop to cross-country ATV
travel in all state forests.

“This is not just about preventing environmental harm; it’s
about getting this activity under control and halting the damage
that’s already occurring,” DNR Commissioner Allen Garber said in
the statement.

Much of the concern about the environmental effects of ATV use
on public land has been centered on the Spider Lake Recreational
Area in Foothills State Forest, where the DNR has said it will file
a legal notice to begin a 60-day public comment period regarding
restrictions on off-trail travel there.

Following the conclusion of that 60-day period, the DNR
commissioner may make the Foothills forest currently a “managed”
forest for ATVs a “limited” forest.

All but about a dozen of the nearly 60 state forests are
managed; that is, all forest roads and trails are open unless
posted closed. While limited forest roads are open, all forest
trails are closed unless posted open. Four forests are off-limits
to ATV use.

DNR officials and ATV groups have said the development of ATV
trails will disperse the use of the machines, of which some 140,000
now are registered in the state. Currently, there are about 600
miles of designated ATV trails on state forest land.

A lawsuit by Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation, upheld by a
district judge and requiring the DNR to do Environmental Assessment
Worksheets on about a dozen planned trails in eight counties, has
impeded progress in designated trail development, ATVers say. MRR
says the impact on the environment needs to be considered before
designating trails.

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