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Great Lakes Article:

Forestry chief urges new ATV policy
Ownership boom prompts need for rules
By Lee Bergquist
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday the agency should have a policy governing the use of all-terrain vehicles in national forests.

Dale Bosworth said the explosion in non-highway motorized vehicles will force the Forest Service to develop a more coherent plan to regulate the machines on 191 million acres of forests and grasslands the agency oversees.

In a meeting with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Bosworth said no single restriction could work because of differences in the nation's forests. Those in northern Wisconsin are starkly different from the tropical forests and wetlands of Florida, for example.

But he said the growing use of ATVs, the damage they can cause and the conflicts they engender will force the agency to find ways to oversee use of the vehicles.

ATVs have a place in the forests, but if he had his druthers, Bosworth said, he would restrict all motorized vehicles to designated roads and trails.

An example of the different approaches to regulating ATVs on forest service land can be found in Wisconsin. ATVs are essentially not permitted in the Nicolet National Forest in northeastern Wisconsin. But in the Chequamegon National Forest to the west, ATVs can be used on roads, trails and even off trails, said Michael T. Miller, planning officer for the two forests.

A new management plan for the combined Nicolet-Chequamegon would increase the number of ATV trails in both forests, but ATV enthusiasts in Wisconsin are concerned that the plan would bar the use of their vehicles on thousands of miles of forest roads and logging trails.

Randy Harden, president of the Wisconsin ATV Association, said his group is not opposed to a federal policy, if it allowed vehicles to be used.

"We understand that ATVs are a contentious issue," he said. "It's about a 50-50 split whether you like them or you don't."

That's why Harden said his group supports mandatory education of ATV riders and vigorous law enforcement and wants to make sure trails are designed to minimize the impact on the environment.

ATV use is booming in Wisconsin.

The number of licensed ATVs has grown from slightly more than 97,000 in 1999 to 182,000 in 2002, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

A few more winters of little or no snow might allow ATVs to leapfrog snowmobiling in popularity, Harden predicted. There were about 227,000 registered snowmobiles in winter 2002, the DNR said.

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