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Northern Counties Get The DNR's Attention


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DNR aims to settle dust over trail rules

Tom Meersman, Star Tribune

January 28, 2005 ROADTRIP0128

Top Department of Natural Resources officials plan to travel to northwestern Minnesota next week to try to resolve a growing dispute about trail restrictions for off-road vehicles in state forests.

Roseau County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Jan. 18 that closes many township roads to DNR vehicles unless they obtain special permits.

Roseau Board Chairman Orris Rasmussen said the resolution is designed to protest the state's plan to close hundreds of miles of trails in Beltrami Island State Forest to off-road driving without consulting area residents.

People are up in arms," he said. "We made the resolution out of frustration, you might say."

Irresponsible use of off-road vehicles has been blamed for damaging wetlands and destroying other natural areas. Much of the criticism has fallen on users of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

In three nearby counties -- Pennington, Lake of the Woods and Koochiching -- officials passed resolutions in support of the Roseau County measure.

"They've certainly got our attention," said DNR Deputy Commissioner Mark Holsten, who will meet with county commissioners next week. "We're going to work on this and open the lines of communication. I just hope it doesn't escalate to where they do enforcement action."

Holsten said the counties don't have legal authority to restrict state vehicles from township roads. DNR forestry workers and conservation officers need unrestricted access to township roads to survey forests for timber sales, to enforce laws and to respond to emergencies, he said.

Holsten e-mailed DNR employees in Roseau County and surrounding areas this week advising them to continue working as normal. If ticketed on township roads, he wrote, workers should accept the citation and report it to his office. So far, he has had no reports of DNR vehicles being ticketed.

Rasmussen said the board passed the measure because DNR planners did not include local officials as they decided which ATV trails in Beltrami Island State Forest would be approved for driving and which would be closed. He said the DNR has proposed to close too many miles of trails and would deprive local citizens of recreational opportunities. "The ATV issue in northern Minnesota is the sacrificial lamb being used to shut down the forests like the spotted owl was used in Oregon and Washington to shut down the timber industry," he said.

Northwestern Minnesota is also the manufacturing home of two of the nation's largest ATV companies: Polaris in Roseau and Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls.

George Swentik, chairman of Lake of the Woods County Board, said DNR officials need to "come to our table" before they make decisions about off-road driving trails. He said state planners have overreacted to reports of trail and wetland damage from reckless ATV drivers, which he said occurs rarely in northern Minnesota. "We don't want to go out there and tear everything to pieces," Swentik said. "We haven't been doing that ...we don't want to do that, and we support enforcement when there is abuse."

Holsten said next week's meetings probably will likely include broader discussions of about other matters of concern to area residents. "My guess is this is not going to be resolved in one meeting," he said.

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"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm cleansing the atmosphere. "

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of US (1743 - 1826), in a letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787

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The DNR is going to be doing this, state forest by state forest. We are going to have to keep our eyes open for the next 4 years and protest if they close toooooooo many of the roads!! - northman

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