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North lawmakers try to change new ATV law

ST. PAUL - Some revved-up Minnesota lawmakers are hopeful an amendment moving through the Legislature will reverse a brand-new law governing all-terrain vehicle access.

The issue is sensitive to many northern Minnesota lawmakers, especially, some of whom hope to lift regulations Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law Tuesday.

A provision in the legislation he signed - the environment and natural resources finance bill - limits ATV trail riding to paths listed on a map.

"What map?" Rep. Frank Moe asked Wednesday.

The Bemidji Democrat and others are concerned that the provision would commit ATV riders to following maps that do not exist.

It's not that the provision is wrong, northern legislators said. Rather, they say it is ahead of its time since the Department of Natural Resources is a long way from mapping each ATV trail in the state.

Under the law, riders not on mapped trails would be subject to penalties.

The author of the provision, Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, said it is appropriate to put the law into effect now, since it helps close a complex loophole that is frequently exploited.

Now, on public land north of Minnesota 2 - which spans from East Grand Forks to Duluth - ATV trails are open unless signs mark them as closed.

The problem, Chaudhary said, is that when riders illegally go off-trail, they have technically blazed a new one. Thus is born a new trail that is not marked as closed and is technically legal for subsequent riders to travel, he explained.

Maps defining posted and recognized trails, Chaudhary said, are the best solution to rein in the illegal treks.

Although enforcement of the mapping requirement won't take hold until the maps are released, Moe said the law will still leave riders confused. Until the maps have been created and disseminated, Moe said it's best to wait.

Otherwise, he said, ATV riders could be left wondering what the status is.

"There's no room for gray area here," Moe said.

That is why Moe and others are waiting to see what comes of a proposal to eliminate the map requirement. The House narrowly passed the amendment into the game and fish bill on a 53-52 vote.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, voted for the change. The mapping requirement may well be appropriate, he said - just not now.

"I want to run in place for a little bit," Dill said, signaling hopes that ATV laws stay untouched for now.

The Senate has yet to take action on the new bill.

Sen. Dan Skogen said he would likely support that proposal if it is presented in the Senate. As it stands, the mapping requirement is "asking us to enforce something that's not done yet," the Hewitt DFLer said.

Bob Meier, an assistant DNR commissioner, said it will take the department at least a couple years to map the approximately 1,300 miles of Minnesota ATV trails.

"It's a little bit before its time," Meier said of the mapping law.

Still, if attempts to squash the new law fail, he said the DNR will map ATV trails on a forest-by-forest basis, then release maps riders must obey as they become available. Either way, he said the department is still trying to sort through the possibilities.

"We're trying to figure out how this is going to work," Meier said.

Despite division over the mapping issue, most involved in the crafting of this year's ATV legislation commended the process as a success.

All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota lobbyist Ray Bohn said environmentalists and ATV supporters came together in a productive way.

"That was very refreshing," Bohn said.