Support DNR compromise

When the state Department of Natural Resources formulated its new policy designed to protect the state’s environment from being damaged by all-terrain vehicles in state forests, it did one thing perfectly – it ignored radical environmentalists.

One would have thought Minnesota environmental groups would be thrilled the state was finally moving toward doing away with its policy allowing ATVs to roam freely in 46 of the state’s 58 state forests, leaving tarnished wilderness and annoyed non-motorized visitors in their wake. Instead, all-or-nothing environmentalists in the Duluth-based Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation sued the DNR in January to prevent it from establishing an ATV trails test project in selected state forests. The group obtained, of all things, an order from a Cass County judge prohibiting the state from proceeding with the project until it studied the environmental impacts of its environmental protection effort. The DNR plans to appeal.

To be sure, restricting ATVs to designated trails falls short of some Minnesotans’ goal of banning the vehicles from state lands entirely. But in the world of practical politics, such policy is unlikely to survive in a state whose citizens love their recreational vehicles as much as those few brief summer months. Environmentalists would be best advised to thank the state for small favors rather than make themselves a mere nuisance and waste political capital pursuing the infamous “last 10 percent” of a policy objective.

The DNR has found a fair and balanced policy. Recognizing all Minnesotans pay taxes for the state’s public lands, the department identified a sensible way to ensure ATV enthusiasts and patrons of a quiet picnic alike are able to enjoy the state’s forests, trails and lakes in their own ways. Such a compromise is the epitome of successful policy-making, and rather than being attacked for not caving in to one group’s interests, the DNR should be praised for constructively solving a problem.

The ATV trail project’s next stop is the Legislature, where DNR officials have asked for $825,000 to build ATV trails and endorse the new restrictions at the two demonstration sites. A Senate committee recommended $1.2 million for the project, and a House committee took up the issue Thursday. Even in tight budget times, Minnesotans should support these allocations, to both promote a reasonable approach to the ATV problem and show state agencies creative solutions will be rewarded. Additionally, it is only fair, under the proposed restrictions, to increase the 600 miles of ATV trails to something approaching the 18,000 miles available for snowmobilers.

Minnesotans love the great outdoors, and the DNR perpetually faces the challenge of enabling them to recreate without interfering with each other’s enjoyment of the state’s public lands. The agency has devised an appropriate solution to one such conflict, and it deserves support – and funding – as it implements its plan.