Thank you for your support in uniting the voice of Minnesotans
for a healthy environment!
- Groups, scientists, legislators, & business leaders
blast DNR appeal of citizen victory-
A DNR decision to appeal a Cass County District Court
order requiring the agency to assess environmental impacts
of ATV, dirt-bike motorcycle, and four-wheel drive truck
trails and scramble areas in North Central Minnesota has
set off a storm of criticism across Minnesota. A diverse
collaborative of legislators, recreation, environmental
and conservation groups, business leaders and Minnesota
scientists are demanding that the DNR not only accept
but apply this ruling to its "Off-highway Vehicle
System Plans" statewide.
Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation, MRR, the group
leading the charge, has been documenting off-highway vehicle
(OHV) problems and working to implement effective management
of these machines. MRR Executive Director Jeff Brown,
says "There is a place for everything when everything
is in its place. Environmental assessment is an essential
first step in determining what place off-highway vehicles
might have in Minnesota's forests and parks, and on our
trails and waterways. While the DNR has agreed to complete
Environmental Assessment Worksheets on two ATV trails,
it refuses to accept the court's order to consider the
'total effect ... each project [has as] part of the overall
OHV system' and complete EAWs on its county, regional,
and statewide OHV plans."
Brown says "The DNR's continual desire to escape
environmental assessment of off-highway vehicle impacts
brings into doubt the agency's ability to effectively
manage these machines. Minnesotans deserve an explanation
as to why the DNR refuses to accept the court order to
complete comprehensive Environmental Assessment Worksheets
on its OHV system plans." MRR challenges the fact
that Minnesota stands alone among our neighbors in allowing
open OHV access to 95% of our state forest lands. This
open classification of Minnesota's state forests is an
essential component of DNR OHV plans and requires the
court ordered review.
Speaking on behalf of Minnesota's larger scientific community,
Dr. Thomas F. Waters, Professor Emeritus, University of
Minnesota, says "current DNR plans and projects have
the potential for significant environmental impacts on
Minnesota's streams, fisheries, and the larger environment.
These potential impacts require thorough assessment".
Dr. Waters is distinguished by his 40 year career studying
the ecology of streams and rivers and is renowned for
his many journal articles and books on this topic. Professor
and mentor to numerous current DNR staff in the agency's
Waters and Fisheries Divisions, Dr. Waters joins a chorus
of others calling on the DNR to complete Environmental
Assessment Worksheets on its off-highway vehicle plans
statewide to avoid environmental damage. Dr. Waters leads
MRR's science team.
Minnesota environmental and conservation groups echo
these concerns. Char Brooker, with the Izaak Walton League
says "in its decision to appeal the court order,
the DNR is promoting motorized recreation without first
protecting Minnesota's resources." Brooker notes
that the "vast majority of hunters are walking hunters
and do not use ATVs. These hunters see the need to assess
environmental impacts from off-highway vehicles throughout
our state forests". The Izaak Walton League's Dave
Zentner points out "there is abundant evidence of
severe environmental impacts from unrestricted use of
ATVs in our forests. Minnesota's public lands deserve
protection from recreational activity that denigrates
Ken Finch, Executive Director of Audubon-Minnesota, says
his group is "especially concerned about the impacts
ATVs, dirt-bike motorcycles, and four-wheel drive trucks
are having on Minnesota's forests and other habitats.
The fragmentation of forests and habitat disturbance from
motorized corridors has the potential to negatively impact
Minnesota's bird populations."
Business leaders are also concerned about the DNR's decision.
Steve Piragis, CEO of Piragis Northwoods Company and Outfitters
in Ely, says "the DNR appeal, if successful will
hurt my business which depends on quiet, safe, and healthy
trails and waterways sought by my customers." Piragis
says ATVs travel unrestricted in Northern Minnesota and
he is concerned that increasing encounters with these
machines will turn Minnesotans off to visiting the Northwoods.
Representative Alice Hausman, the legislature's leading
expert in motorized recreation problems speaks for a growing
number of concerned legislators, saying "the DNR
appeal is misguided and indicates that there are larger
problems in Minnesota's management of motorized recreation
on public land". Representative Hausman is calling
on senior DNR officials to withdraw their appeal and apply
the court's ruling to the DNR's statewide plans to develop
a network of scramble areas and trails for off-highway
vehicles. Representative Hausman says she is "deeply
concerned that public monies are wrongly being spent to
avoid environmental assessment of motorized recreation
impacts and to fight Minnesota's citizens who had to turn
to the courts to obtain it."
While the DNR has announced its appeal, it has yet to
file with the Minnesota Court of Appeals in which a three
judge panel would review the Cass County District Court
decision. MRR's attorney, Jim Peters says: "the
decision of Cass County District Court is consistent with
Minnesota law and with the review that the U.S. Forest
Service and other agencies routinely require on OHV planning.
The DNR could comply with the court order and substantially
complete the review process before any appeal is decided.
Our DNR's decision to continue to fight basic review of
the proposals is disappointing and demonstrates the DNR's
isolation from other agencies in the Midwest region and