DNR fields concerns: Proposal would mark state forest land as 'limited'

Environmentalists and off-highway vehicle enthusiasts brought different perspectives to the microphone at a public meeting to review proposals for motor vehicle use classification and route designation proposals for Mississippi Headwaters State F...

Environmentalists and off-highway vehicle enthusiasts brought different perspectives to the microphone at a public meeting to review proposals for motor vehicle use classification and route designation proposals for Mississippi Headwaters State Forest land.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources meeting, held Wednesday evening in Bemidji State University's Beaux Arts Ballroom, drew more than 100 people. After an informal review of the draft plans, maps and other materials, and presentations by staff from the DNR and other agencies, about 30 people gave public comments in what was a mostly civil portion of the meeting.

The DNR's proposal would classify the state forest land south of U.S. Highway 2 as "limited," meaning that forest roads would be open to motorized vehicles unless posted closed, and forest trails would be closed to such use except where designated.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted until Jan. 23.

"We are willing to listen," said DNR Regional Director Mike Carroll. "We want your communication."


DNR Planner Bill Johnson told the group that the state Legislature has mandated that all state forest land must be reviewed by Dec. 31 and that state forest lands north of Highway 2 must be classified as "limited" or "closed" to off-highway vehicles. The designation of "managed," which means forest trails are open to OHVs unless posted closed, may be retained on lands north of Highway 2.

"We're trying to go from an unmanaged system to a more regulated system," Carroll said.

Many people with environmental concerns were disappointed the DNR did not propose that the state forest's lands be closed to OHVs.

"We need to slow down this process," said Neil King, who provided photos of damage he said was caused by ATVs at Coffee Pot Landing and other state forest areas. "We need to be sure that the ATV owners can be respectful of trails before we give them trails."

"We all thought the proposed plan would come up with a closed forest," said Jerry Maertens of the Mississippi Headwaters Protection Alliance.

Representatives of other agencies, such as the Jackpine Coalition, Audubon Society, the Minnesota Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club, also urged the DNR to reconsider its proposal of "limited."

"There are massive amounts of ATV routes in other areas," said Matt Norton of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Accuracy.

"The DNR has failed to appeal reasoned principles in administering state lands," Norton said.


Norton noted that the portion of the Mississippi River within the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest is the only stretch of river in the state that qualifies as a wild river.

"That's it," he said. "That's what's left. ... The state of Minnesota made a promise decades ago to manage this river ... as a wild river."

Beltrami County resident Judy Johnson said OHVs are damaging the state forest and there is no practical law enforcement. "I think the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest should be closed."

A number of ATV users spoke, most pointing out that they are careful to follow regulations and avoid damaging the areas where they ride. Some said they were all being painted with the same brush.

While some riders rip up the trails, they don't represent the majority of ATV users, said Matt Lundberg of Solway, a fifth-generation logger.

"I grew up riding on these trails," he said. "I don't want them shut off. I want them there for my kids."

Others said that education is important and that responsible ATV users should be called upon to educate fellow riders. Several people commented that the land is public and should be accessible to everyone.

Keith Simar, co-chair of the six-member planning team, said a mix of perspectives went into the proposal. "The DNR is not monolithic," Simar said. "Six of us had six different opinions on a specific segment. That's as it should be. I think we were able to air a lot of the concerns of the general population."


Hubbard County proposes a plan similar to the DNR's on its forest lands. Beltrami and Clearwater counties will have an "opened unless restricted" motor vehicle access policy on their ownerships, which is most closely associated with the state's "managed" classification.

"Generally, Beltrami County lands will be open for public use unless posted closed," said Bob Milne, Beltrami County land commissioner. "That goes with the state management system. "If there are problems with trails, they will be restricted."

Johnson said that signage and information kiosks would be installed beginning this field season.

To view the draft plan, maps and other documents, visit . Scroll to West Central Group -- North Unit for documents.

Written comments on the draft plan will be accepted until Jan. 23. They can be sent to Bill Johnson, DNR Trails and Waterways, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 52, St. Paul MN 55155-4052. Johnson can be reached by telephone at 651-259-5643 or 888-MINNDNR (646-6367). Comments can also be submitted through email to .

"I'm a popular fellow right now, and that's OK," Johnson said.

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