Matthew Lourey State Trail Comments by David Lien

Minn. Dept. of Natural Resources
“Matthew Lourey State Trail” Comments
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN   55155
[email protected]

Dear Sir:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) that was prepared for the Matthew Lourey State Trail, an ATV/OHM trail project in the Nemadji/St. Croix state forests.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is a sportsmen’s conservation group that seeks to ensure America's outdoor hunting and angling heritage through education and work on behalf of clean water and wilderness. Being a native of Minnesota who grew up hunting and fishing in the woodlands and waterways of northern Minnesota around Grand Rapids and points further north, I am currently the co-chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (MN BHA).

MN BHA comprises a growing and diverse organization of both urban and rural members from all over the state. A crucial common denominator in the philosophies of all BHA members is a goal to conserve the forests, mountains, prairies, and waters that support our chosen way of life. As BHA’s founder, Mike Beagle, says: “We believe in keeping public lands healthy and accessible. We believe in managing wildlife as a public trust and all native wildlife as a priceless resource. We believe in protecting the big, natural areas and natural functions that support our hunting and fishing heritage.”

That said, as you surely know, many sportsmen and women are becoming increasingly concerned about growing threats to the future of hunting and angling opportunities on our public lands resulting from habitat loss and degradation due to excessive road building and off-highway vehicle (OHV) over-use and abuse. With this in mind, we are asking the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to refrain from building any new trails or opening existing non-motorized trials to OHVs. In particular, the DNR should not designate portions of the existing Matthew Lourey State Trail for ATV/OHV use. Additional support for our request is included in the information that follows:

  • Former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth called off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse one of the “four threats” to the health of public lands.
  • Today in America there are 7 million miles of roads; in our National Forest System alone, over 460,000 miles—enough to circle the earth 18 times. Just to put that figure into perspective, the Interstate Highway System is only 43,717 miles long.
  • Some 270,000 miles of roads and routes are legally available to off-road vehicles nationwide, over six times the length of the interstate highway system. Meanwhile, at least 60,000 miles of unauthorized (“unclassified”) routes zigzag through public forests.
  • In Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest, for example, there are 5,831 road miles on all land ownerships. These roads provide unbroken access to within about 0.5 mile of all lands.
  • Regarding invasive species, a study by the Montana State University Extension Service found that, “People and their motorized vehicles are a major cause of knapweed spread. Vehicles driven several feet through a knapweed site can acquire up to 2000 seeds, 200 of which may still be attached after 10 miles of driving.”
  • Poorly managed OHV use damages hunter, angler, and other quiet-user experiences, adversely affects wildlife habitat and behavior (including big game and fisheries), and impacts water quality.
  • OHV-caused soil compaction triggers a cascade of negative effects ranging from impacts on water quality to a shift in plant and animal communities. After vehicle tires compact loose soil, rain or snowmelt can no longer percolate fully, and the subsequent surface runoff generates hillside erosion. This is of particular concern in the MHSF.
  • Steep hills and sandy soils make the MHSF area vulnerable to off-road driving damage and significant erosion already has occurred from illegal driving near and through the river.
  • According to the Minnesota DNR, “It has been well established in Minnesota that ATVs are traversing wetlands on public lands, and that sediment from eroding slopes damaged by ATV traffic is entering wetlands and streams.”
  • Closing OHV trails on state forestland is reasonable because hundreds of miles of OHV trails are already available on nearby county lands and in other state forests.
  • According to a 2000 Minnesota DNR “Awareness and Satisfaction Survey,” the statement that survey respondents disagreed with most was: “The DNR should establish more sites on public land for motorized off-road vehicle recreation.”
  • According to a 2002 “Minnesota Deer Hunters’ Opinions and Attitudes Toward Deer Management” survey, the typical Minnesota firearms hunter hunted with a group, used a tree stand at least some of the time, and did not use an ATV. Most hunted for the sport and to be with friends and family.
  • Multiple studies and surveys have shown that OHVs scare away big game and do not improve hunters’ success.
  • The approach of sharing public land sounds reasonable, but in practice it has often failed. What usually happens is that those who prefer quiet recreation are driven from areas where off-road driving becomes popular. So where’s the multiple use?
  • Data shows that the people of Minnesota who do not use OHVs vastly outnumber those who do (even among deer hunters in the north central and northeast part of the state). Those who recreate in non-motorized ways on public lands outnumber those who ride OHVs in terms of both the number of people and number of recreational days, and Minnesotans react negatively to suggestions that the DNR should supply more OHV trails in public satisfaction surveys when questioned about how DNR should cater to recreation tastes.
  • When hunting skill and effort is reduced to twisting a throttle, hunting and habitat disappear. Motorized hunters have to continually reach further. And thus it spreads. Like cancer cells, if the use of ATVs continues to grow unabated they’ll eventually kill the host. In this case, the host is hunting.

Top-of-the-line OHV models can also outpace sticker prices for many standard passenger cars. Hunting boots are cheap. Most hunters rely on "sweat equity," not OHVs. That’s tradition. That’s how it should be, how it should remain. According to BHA member (and NRA life member) Chas S. Clifton, "Although I am 55 years old, I am not so feeble as to require motorized access everywhere I go hunting...[there are] plenty of heavily roaded public lands for those who do."

Former Trout Unlimited Public Lands Initiative (TU-PLI) coordinator David Petersen says that “a single ATV or dirt bike ripping round-and-round can silence gobblers…and chase wary deer plumb out of the country, and there are millions of these screaming nightmares out there, with more every year. At the same time, these multiple-abuse machines are destroying the precious gifts of solitude and adventure the rest of us work so hard to find.”

Kevin Biegler, a member of the executive board and past president of the Twin Cities chapter of Trout Unlimited, says: “We’re sick and tired of listening to ATVers cry about the need for more trails.” They have 11,000 miles of DNR inventoried trails. “The state only has 1,900 miles of trout streams and one-third of them are not viable waters for sustaining recreational fishing.”

Other Minnesota groups, like Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation and the Izaak Walton League, have spoken out against expanded ATV use in our state forests. “They call it managed, but it’s really not managed at all. It’s unmanageable,” said Rick Fry, longtime Pequaywan resident and Town Board supervisor. “We’re trying to convey to [the DNR and county] that we don’t want this [network of trails up here]. But no one seems to be listening to us.”

The noise and smell of an ATV can alert game animals from a long way off, so your chance of seeing game from an ATV is very small. That same noise and smell that is chasing deer away from you is also chasing them away from any other hunters in the area -- this can create very hard feelings among hunters who used stealth and stalking skills to get into good habitat only to have the deer scared off by ATVs!

An increasing number of hunting and other conservation groups are questioning the use of ATVs in hunting, says Montana Wildlife Federation president David Stalling. "Unregulated, irresponsible and out-of-control use of ATVs threatens our hunting heritage," said Stalling. "Simply put: unmanaged ATV use is reducing habitat security, increasing big-game vulnerability and, in the long term, greatly reducing hunting opportunities."

The late Midwest outdoorsman Tony Dean said, “I tend to agree with Stalling. For a few years, my wife and I…hunted the Cave Hills area in Harding County on an annual basis. We'd arrive early for pre-hunt scouting, but come opening morning, ATV riders carrying rifles would be out in full force. As a result, the deer would almost immediately abandon daily patterns…hunting from such a vehicle stretches the boundaries of fair chase, and interferes with other hunters.”

“Traditional hunters want a quality experience, but they are faced with ever-increasing negative impacts brought about by unmanaged ATV use on our public lands,” says Stand Rauch, a lifelong hunter. “As ATV use grows unchecked, many hunters are being displaced from their most pristine and productive hunting areas on their national forests and critical wildlife habitat is being sliced into smaller and smaller pieces.”

David Petersen says that in these times of general overcrowding and shrinking quiet-use opportunities on our increasingly stressed public lands, it's hard to comprehend why hunters and hunters' organizations who are quick to sound alarms about real and perceived Second Amendment and anti-hunter threats don't raise a peep of protest while the best of what's left of America's unspoiled public backcountry is chopped into ever-smaller bits by new roads and motorized trails.

In “Trouble on the trails,” Tom Meersman describes the damage being caused by OHVs in the MHSF: “As snow swirled at Stumphges Rapids campground in Mississippi Headwaters State Forest, flurries began coating a "No Motorized Vehicles" sign yanked from the ground and lying on its side. Boulders had been set across a trail to block all-terrain vehicles, but two of the rocks had been pulled away. Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River, a deep gouge in the side of a sandy bluff showed where ATVs had climbed the slope repeatedly to reach the top. Winter is setting in, but the scars of last summer remain.”

As award-winning DWM Cary Carron so accurately puts it, if something isn’t done soon to reverse the take-over of public lands by OHVs, “It will be the end of hunting as we know it.” We hope you will do everything in your power to help preserve our state forest and other public lands in their natural and wild state for future generations of hunters and anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) that was prepared for the Matthew Lourey State Trail. MN BHA recognizes that travel management planning for DNR employees is not an easy task and we appreciate your efforts.

David A. Lien

About Caitlin Thompson