Framing the issue as one of property owners' rights, Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, said last week he'll seek the repeal of portions of last session's all-terrain vehicle bill.
Specifically, he'll author legislation that will remove restrictions on the use of ATVs to cross a marginal private wetland on private property. His bill would also allow a deer hunter to reach a hunting area or retrieve game on an ATV as long as the operator takes the most direct and safe route. "My No. 1 concern is property owners' rights and last year's bill infringes on those rights," Koering said in a news release. "My constituents deserve to be upset when the government tells them what they can or can't do on their own land." In this instance, Koering should be more concerned with the protection of our natural resources and a little less interested in property owners' rights.
The rights of a property owner are rightly restricted in cases where the owner's actions would hurt a watershed, a river or stream system or the environment that extends beyond his or her borders. Very seldom are the lakes, streams or rivers on an individual's property independent of a larger ecosystem. There are already restrictions placed on property owners when it comes to wetlands because it's recognized that nature doesn't always respect property lines. Minnesota's 2003 ATV bill was not an extension of government control of private property.
To couch it in those terms does a disservice to a good bill, one designed to prevent the type of destruction that irresponsible drivers caused in the Spider Lake Recreation Area not too long ago. As a result of the ATV bill, co-authored by Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, public land will be more easily protected from the minority of ATVers who cause erosion and other problems by their behavior. The bill expanded the ATV trail network in state forests by at least 1,500 miles within the next few years and wisely stipulated that trails not marked as open after that would be off limits. Ruud said authors of the bill never intended to stop deer hunters from retrieving game. She suggested that question's about interpretation of the law could be discussed with the DNR. The bill also sets definitions and prohibits ATVs from traversing some but not all wetlands. It doesn't penalize ATV drivers who drive through small puddles.
The bill received the support of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty for good reasons. It will go a long way toward protecting the state's forests. The legislation and the DNR's enforcement can certainly be reviewed but let's not start dismantling a good bill before it's even had a chance to take full effect.
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