Off-highway vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and off-road vehicles, are popular with Minnesota hunters. About 200,000 OHVs are registered in the state, up from 12,000 in 1984.
As OHV owners prepare for this hunting season it's important to note recent changes to OHV laws.
"Hunters who used an OHV to get to their deer stands, retrieve big game or access a duck blind need to know that some new restrictions apply," said Kathy Larson, an OHV recreational officer in northeastern Minnesota. "We ask hunters to be aware of the changes and assist us in protecting and preserving the resource."
New law changes include:
* A person may not intentionally operate an off-highway vehicle in marshes and bogs, ponds or unfrozen public waters, including lakes, rivers, and streams. An OHV cannot be operated in marshes, bogs, and ponds, whether frozen or not, and regardless if the land is publicly or privately owned.
* All-terrain vehicles, including motorcycles and snowmobiles, are prohibited in most Wildlife Management Areas and their use is regulated in state forests. See pages 119-120 of the "2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook" or check the DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us for details. Users are responsible for knowing and obeying all laws pertaining to ATV, OHV, and snowmobile use.
* Persons may not transport an uncased firearm on an OHV, nor can they shoot at a wild animal from an OHV.
* In state forests, OHVs can be driven off trails and roads to retrieve big game animals only in September, and in October, November and December to construct hunting stands and to hunt big game. Larson said this still prohibits OHVs from crossing swamps or marshes to get to where a hunter wants to go.
BYLINE2:By BABE WINKELMAN
If you keep tabs on outdoors issues you've likely heard about the hunting restrictions that North Dakota has placed on nonresidents. The decision to restrict nonresidents for parts of the duck hunting season has Minnesota waterfowlers, a passionate lot, up in arms. Tired of poor duck hunting in their own state, Minnesotans have become waterfowling vagabonds, with roughly one in six traveling to the North Dakota each year for some of the best duck hunting North America has to offer.
But North Dakota waterfowlers, a passionate lot themselves, have grown tired of Minnesotans flocking to their state each fall, so they convinced state lawmakers to adopt tighter nonresident hunting restrictions. The dust-up, I'm afraid, isn't likely to end any day soon.
I bring up the Dakota-Minnesota border battle not to take sides in the debate but to make a larger, and vastly more important, point that's being clouded over in the rhetorical storm. As we bicker about hunting restrictions in North Dakota and elsewhere, wetlands are being drained, grasslands are being plowed under and water quality is being diminished. Truth be told, our environment is worse off because we hunters/conservationists have not marshaled our energies in the right direction.
Case in point: The Bush administration, no friend of waterfowlers or the environment, will soon decide on whether or not to relax long-standing federal wetlands regulations. At issue are isolated wetlands, better known as prairie potholes, which are critical for spring duck reproduction. Studies have shown that isolated wetlands are the engines that drive duck populations across the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas, Montana and prairie Canada. If these small, one- to three-acre basins aren't protected, waterfowl biologists predict dramatic declines in the continental duck population.
While this undoubtedly is a make-or-break decision -- a decision that could impact Minnesota duck hunters and others in the Central and Mississippi Flyways far more than any nonresident hunting regulations -- I've heard few waterfowlers even mention it. I'm optimistic by nature and believe in the conservation movement. That said, we hunters need to start sounding off about the Bush administration's new "common sense" approach to environmental regulations.
Here's an issue that needs our attention: The Senate Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations is considering a proposal to consolidate the Department of Interior's real estate appraisal functions, including those of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the issue doesn't sound sexy, I'm told that the consolidation would reduce the service's ability to take easements on native grasslands across the prairie pothole region, some of the continent's most productive waterfowl breeding habitat. The consolidation of real estate functions, according to an impact statement issued by the chief of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Region 6 Division of Realty last July, could increase the processing time for wetland and grassland easements by as much as a year, and would reduce by 50 to 80 percent the agency's ability to protect these critically important lands. The good news is that some conservation-minded groups have begun to act.
Meanwhile, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) recently contacted Interior Secretary Gale Norton asking that conservation easement appraisals and acquisitions valued at less than $5 million remain within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife system. That's a good start. A recent Texas A & M University study documented the loss of more than a million acres of non-federal native rangeland in northeastern South Dakota between 1982 and 1997. Without an efficient federal conservation easement program, more Region 6 grasslands will be lost.
The problem with such delays in the system is that few ranchers will wait a year to get enrolled in the program. As a result, we will miss a golden opportunity to protect critical ground-nesting habitat, which is beneficial not only to ducks, but dozens of other bird species. To voice your concern about the consolidation -- and I strongly encourage you to do so -- contact Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Both lawmakers are members of the Senate Subcommittee. Burns can be reached by fax at (202) 228-4532 and Dorgan at (202) 228-2345.
As far as the North Dakota-Minnesota border battle goes, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to meet with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven to talk about the nonresident hunting restrictions. I'm sure both gentlemen will iron out their differences. But I'll bet the environmental problems we're facing will still be without solutions.
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