As a series of public meetings on motorized vehicle use in state forests are about to begin in northwestern Minnesota, DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam said the law clearly defines what the DNR is required to do.
According to state statutes passed by the 2003 Legislature, the DNR is mandated to review the classification of all managed lands and to change the classification to "limited" or "closed." It was not given the option of classifying the state forests as "managed," meaning off-highway vehicles can go on any trails unless they're marked off-limits.
"There seems to be some confusion about the classifications that are required by law," Merriam said. "Citizens sometimes confuse roads with trails, ATVs with other OHVs, truck challenge areas with technical trails, and other aspects of related legislation, such as the big game and trapping exemption."
Legislators passed a law that directed the DNR Commissioner to complete a review of all forest lands under the authority of the commissioner on a forest-by-forest and area-by-area basis in accordance with the process and criteria under Minnesota Rules, part 6100.1950.
The law specified that classification be based on these criteria: resource sensitivity and management objectives of the lands in question, resource impact by motorized and non-motorized use, including erosion, rutting, and impacts on vegetation, wildlife, air, water or natural habitats, motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunity in the area, user needs, such as trails, parking, signs, and access, the degree and trend of motor vehicle use in the area, the degree and trend of non-motor vehicle use in the area, competing interests among different user groups, and public safety and law enforcement concerns.
"Imagine the huge task the DNR's dedicated field staff undertook to inventory 54 forests that contain more than three million acres in order to comply with law," said Merriam. "Because trails cross county, federal and other lands mixed among the state forest property, the employees actually created a thorough inventory involving additional acreage that totaled nearly five million acres."
The inventory recorded every trail that showed prior human activity, including ones that never had motorized use, so when DNR staff talks about total miles in the trail inventory, they are actually including some trails that were not previously used by off-highway vehicles. The inventory also included some trails in wetlands.
In an effort to foster clear communication internally and externally about these OHV and trail issues, Merriam recently directed employees to avoid jargon, acronyms and terminology that may not be easy for everyone to understand. Merriam also said, "employees know that another key component of clear communication is listening with an open mind to what the public and co-workers are saying as we work together for the good of the resource and the citizens we serve. I simply reminded them and myself to communicate clearly and be good listeners."
Merriam also acknowledged that some clarifications in legislation may also be necessary to make clear motorized vehicle designations on "limited" forest lands. During the 2005 legislative session, the DNR will likely pursue clarifications on the OHV hunting exemption and possibly some kind of zoning plan within forests to manage for motorized and non-motorized uses.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.