For the first time, riding all-terrain vehicles for fun on state forest trails will be banned during the firearm deer season this November, the state Department of Natural Resources said Thursday.
DNR officials said the ban, which also applies to dirt bikes and off-road trucks, will keep riders safe and reduce noise and conflicts that disturb deer and hunters.
The ban only applies to non-hunters who are out for a ride. Those caught violating the ban face a warning or ticket, though no specific fine was set.
"We are trying to reduce potential conflicts," said Forrest Boe, the DNR's Trails and Waterways director.
Hunters, who have pushed for the ban since 2006, still may use vehicles to reach deer stands and retrieve game during certain hours.
The new limits on recreational riding apply to mapped trails and unmarked two-tracks, but not to forest roads. It also doesn't affect riding on county or private lands.
The DNR does not have authority to restrict hunting-season vehicle use on forest roads or non-state lands.
One trail not covered by the ban is the 148-mile Soo Line Trail in northeast Minnesota, which is owned by three counties. On trails that meander through county and state lands, no riding is permitted on the state portion.
Boe urged riders to check the DNR's website (www.dnr.state.mn.us) for details about specific trails. He said workers intend to place signs at trail heads, but that it would be impossible to mark every section of trail as closed.
Local chapters of the 19,000-member Minnesota Deer Hunters Association urged the DNR to impose the ban. The statewide ATV association didn't oppose it.
"It is absolutely essential," said Bob Djupstrom, a White Bear Lake deer hunter who has encountered ATVs and dirt bikes while hunting. "Hunting is the one major management tool for controlling the deer herd."
Djupstrom, a retired DNR employee and member of the deer hunters association, said motorized recreation can disturb deer, reducing a hunter's chances of bagging one. Riders also put themselves in danger of being hit by a stray bullet, he added.
In the Nemadji State Forest, on the Wisconsin border north of the Twin Cities, ATV and dirt bikes have disturbed deer and hunting for at least three years, he and others said.
"Unfortunately, there are so many areas that have trails because they were put in by the clubs that you literally can't get away from the noise and disturbance factor," Djupstrom added.
DNR officials have been considering the ban for months. Earlier this week, the Star Tribune reported that many riders continue to ride illegally off trails and damage public lands despite laws to curb such behavior. Boe said the timing of the announcement was not related to the newspaper reports.
In northeastern Minnesota, known as the 100 Series area, the recreational riding ban is Nov. 8-23. In much of the rest of the state, known as the Minnesota 200 Series deer area, the ban is Nov. 8-16. Recreational riding already is banned in southeastern Minnesota during deer season.
The DNR did not ban recreational use of ATV, dirt-bikes, Jeep or truck riding during deer archery season, now underway, or during the muzzleloader season in December.
Deer hunters who wish to use an off-road vehicle must possess a valid deer license and restrict travel to three periods: before legal shooting time (one-half hour before sunrise); from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and after legal shooting hours (one-half hour after sunset).
David Shaffer • 612 673-7090