A perennial conflict has been renewed at the Minnesota Capitol this year. The issue deals with the usage of all-terrain vehicles in Minnesota’s forests. Environmentalists have long opposed the usage of ATVs, citing their contribution to erosion and obnoxious noise, while many Minnesotans appreciate the recreational value of ATVs.
In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature created an inadequate solution. An arbitrary line was drawn along U.S. Highway 2 dividing the state into two regions. The zone north of Highway 2 permits ATV use on any forest trails that do not expressly prohibit them, and the southern part of the state permits ATVs only on designated trails. This subtle difference leaves northern forests susceptible to ambitious ATV riders who want to create their own trails. This is technically allowed because they are not violating the prohibited trails.
The state Senate is now trying to discourage this by passing new regulations. Several bills have been proposed, but we certainly hope that the most stringent of these recommendations is adopted.
Minnesota’s state forests provide many assets to the state. First of all, harvested wood is sold and provides money for the state, and secondly, the forests are a favorite tourist location.
According to Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism promotion office, 75 percent of visitors to northeastern Minnesota are from Minnesota. Additionally, 42 percent cite hiking and bird watching as activities in which they participate while touring.
Based on these percentages, a significant number of Minnesotans would be negatively impacted by the unchecked presence of ATVs in forests.
This is why we need to establish regulations. ATV use needs to be restricted to designated trails that can be monitored and maintained. If usage gets out of control, the state could lose some of its most valuable resources.