Minnesota DNR Seeks Public Comments

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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 West Central Forests - South Unit. The South Unit includes Wadena/Hubbard counties' Huntersville State Forest, Wadena County's Lyons state forests, and Becker County's Smoky Hills and Two Inlets state forests. Similar proposals are also presented for scattered DNR Forestry lands in Clay, Douglas, Otter Tail, Pope, Todd and Wadena counties.

The West Central Group 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 of Minnesota's state forests by December 2008. Planning for the West Central Group started in July 2006 when DNR formed an interdisciplinary team of resource specialists to conduct the review. Five public open houses were held last fall. Since then the DNR team has worked closely with county and tribal representatives to develop its recommendations. Preliminary planning for the South Unit is complete and ready for public comment. More work is needed on the North Unit and recommendations for it are expected later this summer.

EVALUATION OF ROUTES, PROPOSED DESIGNATIONS

In all, the draft plan makes recommendations for about 325 miles of roads, trails, and other inventoried routes on about 61,000 acres of state forest lands in the South Unit. 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 county. This proposal was developed in cooperation with Becker County and White Earth Natural Resources in an effort to foster consistency across land ownerships.

PROPOSED FOREST CLASSIFICATION

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 South Unit are currently classified as managed, which means trails are open unless posted closed. The proposal reclassifies the entire South Unit from managed to limited, which has trails closed to motor vehicle use unless posted open. This "closed unless posted open" policy would apply to all the trails inside the four state forests and scattered forest lands in the six counties. Forest roads are open to both highway-licensed vehicles and OHVs under either the managed or limited forest classification.

AREAS WITH LIMITATIONS ON OFF-TRAIL AND NONDESIGNATED TRAIL USE

The draft plan recommends establishing two areas to receive special protections from vehicular use, one each in Smoky Hills and Two Inlets state forests. The Smoky Hills State Forest limitations area covers some 6,600 acres while the one for Two Inlets State Forest covers about 6,300 acres. These areas were selected to protect sensitive resources. If approved, the motorized hunter/trapper exceptions on state forest lands would not apply to these areas. The exceptions, which allow for both off-trail ATV travel and use of nondesignated routes by highway licensed vehicles and OHVs for certain activities, would still be in force for the remaining balance of both forests.

PUBLIC REVIEW MEETING

The DNR will hold two public meetings on this proposal. The first will be Tuesday, July 17, at the Menahga School, 216 Aspen Ave. SE, Menahga.

The second will be Thursday, July 19, at Detroit Lakes Middle School, 500 Eleventh Ave. South, Detroit Lakes.

Both meetings start at 6 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. The first hour will allow people to informally review the plan, maps and other summary 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 comments.

PLANS AND MAPS NOW AVAILABLE

The DNR's West Central Group - South Unit forest classification and route designation proposals are available on the DNR Web site at www.findthetrails.com.

Written comments, questions, or requests for copies of the planning documents should be directed to Bill Johnson, DNR Trails & Waterways, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 52, St. Paul, MN 55155-4052; to [email protected] or by calling (651) 259-5643 or toll free at 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Written comments on the draft proposal will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1.