Several groups propose new, tougher OHV laws

Staff Writer

St. Paul Nine conservation groups are working to set stiffer
penalties for OHV riders who damage public and private land.

“We want to give law enforcement a few more tools to use in
enforcing Minnesota’s OHV laws,” said Susan Solterman, policy
director for Audubon Minnesota, one of the groups that supports
tougher legislation.

Solterman wouldn’t name them, but said there are legislators in
the House and the Senate who will carry the OHV bills.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, doesn’t expect anything new in the
way of OHV laws to come from the upcoming session.

“We did some of that stuff here a few years ago where we
increased penalties,” said Hackbarth, chairman of the Environmental
and Natural Resources Policy Committee. “I don’t think we are going
to go there this upcoming session.”

Under the conservation groups’ proposal, the state could
increase fines given to OHV riders ($250 for a first offense; $500
for a second offense; and $1,000 for a third offense), place
violations on a driver’s record, and seize vehicles from repeat
offenders.

The proposals also include setting up a 24-hour hotline for
reporting violations, extending a fund designed to repair public
and private lands damaged by OHVs, and prohibiting youth under 16
from operating an OHV.

Given that OHV registrations have doubled in the past six years,
it’s time to tighten the law, Solterman said.

“The sale of them has boomeranged and state laws and regulations
are just barely catching up to the public’s need for better
enforcement,” she said. “It would be very surprising if the OHV
community itself didn’t support some of our proposals.”

The groups’ proposals would target reckless OHV drivers.

“They have been accustomed to going on any trail they want, and
that’s changing now,” Solterman said. “We need to make sure the
state is equipped with the tools it needs to keep OHVs on trails
and rein in the reckless drivers who tend to destroy public
land.”

A lack of penalties isn’t the problem, Hackbarth said.

“We have done quite a bit to reign in these renegades who are
out there wrecking it for everyone else,” he said. “We have to get
more places for people to ride that’s our number one problem.”

Ray Bohn, lobbyist for the All Terrain Vehicle Association of
Minnesota, noted enforcement spending in the past three years has
gone from $465,000 to $2 million.

“Sometimes you have to give these things some time to work,” he
said. “It isn’t like we are not spending money on enforcement.”

Rather than stiffer penalties, Hackbarth and Bohn want to see
something like Wisconsin’s “Trail Ambassador Program” enacted.

“It’s a big state, and you are never, ever probably going to
have enough enforcement officers out there for every little thing,”
Bohn said. “The user groups are willing to do this.”

Under the Ambassadors program, riders from ATV clubs would
police the trails. They wouldn’t have arrest power, but would watch
what’s going on and help people stay on trails and within the law.
The ambassadors would have radios so they could contact a
conservation officer or sheriff’s department if there’s a major
problem.

“To make criminals out of everybody out there is just not the
right approach,” Bohn said. “People need to be educated and
trained.”

The nine groups that support new legislation are the American
Lands Alliance Midwest office; Audubon Minnesota; Friends of the
Boundary Waters Wilderness; the Izaak Walton League of America
Midwest office; the Jack Pine Coalition; the League of Women Voters
of Minnesota; the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy; the
Minnesota Conservation Federation; and the Sierra Club North Star
Chapter.

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