Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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ATVs, private property become a sticky issue’

Associate Editor

Aitkin, Minn. When state legislators passed rules to prevent
all-terrain vehicles and other off-highway machines from damaging
wetlands on both public and private property, their focus was on
those who intentionally rip up wetlands, says Minnesota
Conservation Officer Bob Mlynar, of Aitkin. But those rules now are
confusing hunters who use ATVs when hunting deer and other
game.

“It’s become an issue with deer hunters in the Aitkin area,”
Mlynar said this week. “People have become concerned. In getting to
a deer stand in an area they’ve normally crossed, now they’re not
sure if it’s a wetland or not.”

Broad-ranging legislation was passed last session to address
growing ATV use in the state, primarily on state forest land. But
the legislation also says ATVs and other recreational vehicles
cannot be operated in certain types of wetlands, whether they be on
private or public land.

Rules in a DNR pamphlet aimed at ATV use state the vehicles may
be operated “on your own land that is not a marsh, bog, pond, or
unfrozen stream, lake, or river.”

DNR officials say the rule does not apply to seasonal wetlands
those that typically dry up during the summer. Those where ATV use
is prohibited include Type 3 (shallow marshes, sometimes with
cattails and bulrushes), Type 4 (wetlands with six to seven inches
of water and vegetation such as wild rice, bulrushes, and
cattails), Type 5 (ponds with water up to 10 feet deep), and Type 8
(water-logged bogs).

However, the legislation is not intended to keep people from
getting to their deer stand, Mlynar said.

“Unfortunately, the law may have to be tweaked,” he said.

Bill Spence, DNR Division of Enforcement operations manager said
changes in the law are possible.

“Due to the changing nature of motorized recreation, the
Legislature may continue to refine the OHV laws that are designed
to balance natural resource conservation with the desires and needs
of citizens,” he said. The DNR, Spence added, is considering
proposing changes to the existing law that would address hunters’
concerns while still protecting streams and wetlands.

Lawmakers in the state already are considering the possibility
for the upcoming session.

State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, a co-author of the
recent ATV legislation, said she’s uncomfortable about how the law
is being applied to private lands.

“It was not my intention or the intention of those who worked on
the bill that it apply to private lands,” she said Monday. “We
don’t want ATVs running amok, but there are private property
rights.”

Ruud said the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by St. Paul
DFLer John Marty, was revamped at the request of DNR officials when
the bill went to House-Senate conference committee.

“My constituents tell me they believe ATVs should stay out of
the wetlands, and I agree,” Ruud said. “But what do we do, send the
DNR onto private property? It’s a really sticky issue.”

This year, the DNR Enforcement Division said it will focus its
efforts on educating the hunting public about the new law.

“I’m telling hunters to take a look at where their stand is, how
they’re getting to it, and to try to find a better route if they’re
going through a wetland or bog,” Mlynar said. “If there’s not a
better way, we’re not going onto private property unless there’s a
complaint about somebody tearing up a wetland.

“This fall, it’s more of an education period for deer hunters
and the other hunters out there,” he said.

Matt Norton, spokesperson for the Minnesota Center for
Environmental Advocacy, says the MCEA doesn’t consider the issue a
big problem. Hunters, he said, should be the ones most aware of the
need not to harm wetlands during the course of the hunt, even if it
makes their hunt easier.

“It would be the proverbial case of killing the goose to get the
golden egg,” he said.

Further details about OHV operation can be found on pages
119-120 of the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations
Handbook, or on the DNR web site at: www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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