Thursday, May 15, 2008

DNR seeks comments on motor vehicle use proposals for state forest lands

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking public comments on its forest classification and motor vehicle route designation proposal for the White Earth State Forest. Comment is also being sought for scattered DNR Forestry lands in Becker, Clearwater and Mahnomen counties.

The White Earth State Forest is part of the greater West-Central Forests Planning Unit that includes six state forests within a 10-county planning area. The West-Central Group is divided into two subunits. The North Unit includes Mississippi Headwaters and White Earth state forests and scattered forest lands in Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater and Mahnomen counties. The South Unit includes Huntersville, Lyons, Smoky Hills and Two Inlets State Forests and scattered forest lands in Clay, Douglas, Otter Tail, Pope, Todd and Wadena counties.

The DNR is required to complete a classification review for all 58 Minnesota state forests by December 2008. In July 2006, the DNR formed an interdisciplinary team of resource specialists to conduct the review. Five public open houses were held in the fall of 2006. Since then, the DNR team has worked closely with county and tribal representatives to develop its recommendations. Preliminary planning for the White Earth State Forest and Becker, Clearwater and Mahnomen counties is ready for public comment. Planning for all other parts of the West-Central Group has been completed and the recommendations are now being implemented.

The draft plan makes recommendations for approximately 110 miles of roads, trails and other inventoried routes on approximately 70,000 acres of state forest lands in the state forest and associated scattered lands.

The proposal, which includes some route closures, will ultimately determine where motorized vehicles – including cars, trucks and off-highway vehicles (OHVs) – will be allowed to operate on state lands in the forest and in these counties.

This proposal was developed in cooperation with the land departments of Becker and Hubbard counties and White Earth Natural Resources to be consistent across land ownerships.The motor vehicle use classification provides the framework for managing public motor vehicle use on DNR lands and associated forest roads and trails. All state forest lands in the planning area are currently classified as managed, which means trails are open unless posted closed. The proposal reclassifies the White Earth State Forest from managed to limited, which means trails are closed to motor vehicle use unless posted open. This “closed unless posted open” policy would apply to all the trails inside the state forests and the scattered DNR-managed forest lands in the three counties. Forest roads are open to both highway-licensed vehicles and OHVs under either managed or limited forest classification.The draft plan recommends establishing areas on DNR Forestry-administered lands receive special protections from vehicular use. The limitations area occurs at two locations in the forest. One at Snider Lake provides motorized use restrictions on about 3,400 acres. The second, at Upper Rice Lake, restricts big game hunting and trapping motor vehicle access on about 4,700 acres. These areas were selected to protect sensitive resources, with improved hunter walking opportunities provided at Upper Rice Lake. The exceptions, which allow for both off-trail ATV travel and use of non-designated routes by highway licensed vehicles and OHVs for certain activities, would still be in force for the balance of public forest lands.

The DNR will host a public meeting on this proposal from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 15, at Mahnomen High School, 209 First Street S.W., Mahnomen. The first hour will allow people to informally review the plan, maps and other materials. The DNR interdisciplinary team and other supporting staff will be present to answer questions. During the remainder of the meeting, DNR will present its proposal and respond to questions and accept comments. Land department staff for Becker and Clearwater counties and White Earth Natural Resources will also be present to answer questions and receive comments about designations on county-managed lands.

The proposals are posted on the DNR Web site at Comments, questions or requests for copies of the documents may be directed to Bill Johnson, DNR Trails & Waterways, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4052; by calling (651) 259-5643 or 1-888-MINNDNR, or to Written comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 25.

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