New law gives off-road vehicles more access in northern forests
Tom Meersman, Star Tribune
July 1, 2005 ATV0701
The Legislature has reversed itself on off-road vehicle policy in northern Minnesota, and has split the state into two regions with different rules and regulations. The changes were folded into a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the governor Thursday to fund environmental agencies and to avert closures of state parks.
The measure also included language favored by some northern Minnesota legislators, allowing off-road drivers more latitude in state forests north of U.S. Hwy. 2.
Under the law that was passed in 2003, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources must designate a trail system in each of the state's forests in the next few years. As that system is identified, all-terrain vehicles and other drivers may ride only where motorized trail signs are posted.
The law passed Thursday changes those rules for northern state forests, which constitute about 74 percent of the total land in the state forest system. In that northern third of the state, off-road drivers will not be confined to a state motorized trail system, and will be able to take their vehicles on any trails except those posted as closed for safety or environmental reasons.
Those supporting the change, including Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that the northern forests have much larger areas and less off-road traffic than southern forests, so a one-size-fits-all trail system is not necessary. But critics said the change will mean a return to uncontrolled use of ATVs and other off-road vehicles on public lands, since the machines will be able to go on animal paths, hiking trails and other corridors.
"This is just the kind of shrapnel that goes flying around at the end of session when the Legislature hasn't done its business in an orderly fashion," said John Curry, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. "This is going to have to be undone," he said, referring to the new policy for northern Minnesota.
Some senators recognized the potential for problems, and voted 34 to 25 on an amendment by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, to keep one system of designated trails for the entire state. But after a DFL caucus in which members were told that amendments would jeopardize passage of the bill, the matter was reconsidered and the Marty amendment was stripped. The bill moved to the House, which also passed it without amendments, and sent it to the governor for his signature.
Tom Meersman is firstname.lastname@example.org.