Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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DNR issues OHV directive

Field Editor

St. Paul A DNR field directive sent from St. Paul last week by
Assistant Commissioner of Operations Brad Moore seems to indicate
the agency is taking steps to more closely manage the use of
off-highway vehicles (OHVs) on state forests and other state-owned
lands.

“We want the field staff to move forward with an environmentally
sound, well-managed trail system,” Moore says. “The goal is to have
OHV use managed on designated trails.”

The comprehensive directive emphasizes a conservation-based
approach to OHV management. The agency intends to begin
environmental assessments of proposed trails and encourages
planners to consider other forest users when laying out trail
systems. A review of the grant-in-aid program, which funds trail
development, will consider whether DNR oversight trail projects
adequately protect the environment.

Challenge hills, mud holes, and scramble areas are considered
inappropriate uses of state forests, according to the directive,
indicating a significant shift in the agency’s approach to OHV
recreation. Such areas were developed in the Foothills State
Forest, and subsequently became politically controversial when
local citizens complained that severe OHV damage was occurring in
the forest.

Moore says the OHV challenge hill at Spider Lake in the
Foothills forest will remain open for two years, while the agency
looks for other sites. The DNR will continue to develop OHV
playgrounds on lands acquired for that purpose, such as the new OHV
park in an abandoned iron mine at Gilbert. OHV park development
will be subjected to a public input process and environmental
review.

Field staff were instructed to close existing trails to OHVs if
environmental damage is occurring, with an emphasis placed on
protecting wetlands and streams. Work will also begin to identify
places on state lands suitable for non-motorized recreation
experiences.

The directive was criticized and praised by special interest
groups. Ray Bohn, lobbyist for the state all-terrain vehicle
association, said he was frustrated that rider groups were not
consulted about the policies.

“We’ve been working with the DNR in good faith for more than
five years and attending all their silly meetings, and it appears
they’re just throwing that out the window,” Bohn said. “It’s very
disconcerting. We’re feeling a little betrayed.”

On the other had, conservation groups have called for greater
OHV regulation. Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League approved of
the directive and said citizens expect the DNR to be the steward of
natural resources.

Moore said the directive received extensive internal review and
gave direction to the field staff for this year. An OHV task force
initiated by the Legislature is expected to wrestle with policy
issues and make recommendations to lawmakers. The task force has
not yet been selected.

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