ST. PAUL (AP) -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty may have found the middle of the road on the issue of all-terrain vehicle trails.
He released a plan Monday that Republicans and Democrats mostly seemed comfortable with -- a major accomplishment for an issue that's become increasingly polarized in recent years.
The proposal eventually would restrict ATV use to designated trails on state lands, require the state Environmental Quality Board to develop rules for environmental review on trails by 2005 and increase the ATV registration fee by $5.
It would, however, also increase the number of designated trails.
While new rules were being developed, the state could keep trails open temporarily without an environmental review. And local governments would have the authority to regulate ATV use in ditches.
"It's clear that Minnesotans want to both protect and enjoy Minnesota's natural resources," Pawlenty said.
As of now, the state has only 950 miles of designated ATV trails with another 6,000 to 8,000 miles of lawfully used, but undesignated trails. That compares with about 19,000 miles of designated snowmobile trails.
The number of ATVs in Minnesota has nearly tripled over the past decade, putting pressure on state lands. About 100,000 ATVs are now registered in Minnesota, Pawlenty said.
"This is a passionate issue," said Deputy Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten. "Those passions have gotten to the point now that they're getting in our way."
Under current rules, ATVs and other off-road vehicles are allowed to drive on any trail in state forests except those posted as closed to motorized use. The primary House proposal would, for the most part, continue that policy.
The Senate plan that's made the most progress would require the DNR to select at least 1,500 miles of off-road trails in state forests in the next two years and mark them as such. After that, all other trails would be off-limits.
Pawlenty said the House bill was too lenient and the Senate bill was too restrictive.
The sponsors of the both bills said Pawlenty's plan was a good compromise.
"We're on the same page," said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. "I just think it's very responsible."
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, called the proposal "good middle ground" that the two sides could tweak and probably pass this year.
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