In the debate about off highway vehicle trails on public lands, motorized recreationalists have loudly claimed their “access rights” to our public lands.
Our public lands and wildlife are the domain of the public. Our right to access them for use and enjoyment are uniquely American but a “right” to use is not a “right to abuse.” We must remember that our rights to access public lands are “temporary rights” not “property rights.”
For over 50 years I have been an enthusiastic deer hunter, grouse hunter and user of our public lands and waterways. For those citizens who cannot afford land, they still have the opportunity to take their kids camping in a wild setting or a father can take his son into the Northwoods deer hunting whereas, without these public lands, he couldn’t.
Many decades ago, Minnesota established a vast state forest system of 4.5 million acres. At the same time, Minnesota counties were given administration of another vast network of lands known as “county administered lands,” often referred to as “tax forfeited lands.” These lands, along with two National forests are the goose that lays the golden egg. Besides providing opportunities for Minnesotans to experience the outdoors, they make our state unique with a diversity of wildlife, forest types and abundant and pristine waters not seen east of the Rockies.
But in 1998 the DNR went public with a statewide plan for OHV which for the vast amount of our public lands became a free-for-all for OHVs and triggered a quasi-rebellion by the people in northcentral Minnesota known as the Jack Pine Coalition. The damage in our state forests to wetlands, soils and displacement of traditional users was egregious and the JPC worked with Sens. Marty and Ruud in 2003, which resulted in tighter OHV restrictions in a DNR Omnibus bill.
Since 2003, powerful special interests, including Polaris, Arctic Cat, a plethora of OHV clubs and most northern politicians have effectively chipped away at these protections and now, again, we are witnessing our public lands being turned over to the motorized crowd. In the recent legislative session $13 million was allocated for OHV trail extension.
Our public lands are what’s best about our state! It is time to take back our public lands. Access rights are not a right to damage our public lands or degrade the pristine water sources that make us famous.
Written by Barry W. Babcock, Bemidji, Minn.