ST. PAUL (AP) -- A day after Gov. Tim Pawlenty helped them make their case, senators hoping to more closely regulate all-terrain vehicle use on public land won a big victory Tuesday night.
The Senate voted 52-11 for a bill that would expand the state's ATV trail network in state forests by at least 1,500 miles within the next few years. Trails not marked as open after that would be off-limits. Similar "closed unless posted open" rules would apply to roadside ditches managed by counties.
Currently, 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.
Pawlenty on Monday endorsed the general direction of the Senate bill.
But senators representing some of the most rural areas in the state argued Tuesday that limiting ATV use to marked trails is too restrictive. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said Minnesota's thriving ATV manufacturing industry could suffer if their customers don't have ample places to ride them.
"The way this bill is laid out makes me very, very nervous," he said. "In a couple years time you're going to see people crying for change if this becomes law."
The legislation grew out of concerns that off-highway vehicles are causing serious damage to woods, wetlands and roadside ditches.
Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said when the issue came to the Legislature last year she took a more lenient view, hoping the threat of restrictions would change behaviors.
"I thought people would be more responsible, but I'm seeing that they haven't been," Robling said. "It's just time to close the road ditches."
A bill approved by the House would allow all trails to remain open except for those the Department of Natural Resources closes for specific reasons.
The Senate bill also boosts registration fees and strengthens training and enforcement.
The bill was cosponsored by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, voted against the bill on the grounds that he thought it was too restrictive.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.