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

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State legislator targets ATV law’s wetlands rule

Associate Editor

St. Paul Conservation officers in Minnesota began fielding the
questions as soon as hunting seasons got under way this fall:
“Where is it legal to operate my ATV?”

New rules regarding the operation of all-terrain vehicles across
wetlands on private property were the subject of the debate during
last year’s legislative session and the past hunting season. Now,
state Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, says it’s time to right a
wrong.

“I was opposed to the way (the new ATV rules) went through last
year,” Koering said this week. “Now we’re starting to feel the
repercussions.

“The rules says if it’s a type 3, 4, 5, or 8 wetland on your
property and you’re riding an ATV through it, you can be fined for
that,” he said. “That crosses the line for me; we’re infringing on
private property rights.”

Koering said there are aspects of the bill with which he agrees,
and revamping the entire ATV bill is not his intent. He just wishes
to repeal the portion regarding wetlands on private property.

But there are groups that believe otherwise. The Minnesota
Center for Environmental Advocacy calls such a move a step
backward. And a Brainerd Dispatch editorial suggests “Koering
should be more concerned with the protection of our natural
resources and a little less interested in property owners’
rights.”

Koering’s bill would shift the ATV wetland restrictions from
private to public lands.

“Applying the rule to wetlands only on public lands would be a
massive step back from decades ago when we as citizens decided we’d
protect wetlands,” said Matt Norton, of the MCEA.

Norton said actions in wetlands often carry a ripple effect that
can extend well beyond the land of a private property owner.

“If we follow their (supporters of rescinding the ATV rules)
line of thinking, we wouldn’t have setbacks on lakes and streams.
The things we do, particularly on wetlands, affect the things
around us.”

Says the Dispatch editorial: “Very seldom are the lakes,
streams, or rivers on an individual’s property independent of a
larger ecosystem. There are already restrictions placed on property
owners when it comes to wetlands because it’s recognized that
nature doesn’t always respect property lines.”

Currently, eight wetland types are recognized in Minnesota. ATV
operation restrictions through four types on private land include
the following:

Type 3 A shallow marsh, often covered with 6 inches or more of
water, usually waterlogged during the growing season. Vegetation
often includes bulrushes, cattails, and various other marsh
plants;

Type 4 A deep marsh, usually with 6 inches to 3 feet of water.
You’ll find cattails, bulrushes, reeds, and wild rice in these
wetlands;

Type 5 These are wetlands usually covered with less than
10-foot-deep. They include shallow ponds and reservoirs.

Type 8 Type 8 wetlands are bogs, where the water table often is
at the surface.

Norton said these are the types of wetlands hunters don’t
typically attempt to cross in the course of their hunt because of
the chance they’ll get stuck. “Type 3, 4, 5, and 8 wetlands have
substantial water in them nearly year-round,” he said.

Those are the wetlands that could be “totally denuded” of
vegetation by ATV operation through them, Norton said. The MCEA
doesn’t support an exemption for frozen wetlands, either. Emergent
vegetation is susceptible to ATV damage even at that time, Norton
said.

Koering said he needs more evidence that ATV operation in the
wetlands causes damage.

“I’d like to see the scientific facts that driving across a
wetland damages it,” he said.

Confusion regarding which wetlands are off-limits to ATVs on
private land would likely eliminate some opposition to the rules,
Norton said.

“I think if most people saw the types of wetlands that were
included (in the restrictions), they wouldn’t want to go there in
the first place.” He suggests the DNR print photo examples of such
wetlands in next year’s hunting and fishing regulations
pamphlet.

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