In regard to "Back country should be open to all" (Opinion Exchange, May 5), concerning the Border-to-Border (B2B) off-road vehicle trail, I am an old warhorse in this fight. From 2001-09, I was a principal in the Jack Pine Coalition (then the only viable opposition to this activity). The Jack Pine Coalition was organized by grassroots citizens in North Carolina and northwestern Minnesota. We witnessed firsthand the damage and displacement of traditional forest users.
The first Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trail placement for off-road vehicles was in Foothills State Forest and after several years of frustration and failure to halt the damage to wetlands, trails and hillside erosion, in 2002 we were able to get DNR Commissioner Allen Garber to shut down the damage done in Foothills by off-road vehicles. It was in 2006 that Commissioner Gene Merriam did an about-face and mandated DNR staff to repeat this in Paul Bunyan State Forest.
It was then the Jack Pine Coalition realized we were getting nowhere with the DNR, so we persuaded legislators to offer a bill to ban off-road vehicles from state lands. The bill passed but was limited to Crow Wing, Cass and Hubbard counties in conference committee.
Several years ago, we were informed that the DNR-proposed B2B off-road vehicles trail was coming through these same three banned counties. I informed the DNR that they were mapping the B2B trail in disregard to state statutes. Hence the new proposal moved farther north.
When an off-road vehicle enthusiast tells you they are bird-watchers, nature lovers, sightseers and just want to tour northern Minnesota, beware! In fact, this off-road damage was documented in an award-winning story by Star Tribune reporter Tom Meersman in 2002, "Tracks on the Land." The notion of an off-road vehicle trail crossing the state is bad enough, but the most distressing fact is all the spur trails along the route. Consider why these machines are called "off-road" vehicles, and not "on-road" vehicles.
Our system of public lands is one of the best things about being an American. They are our "commons" and a link to our heritage. Public lands are exactly that — public. Although we have made sacrifices, such as allowing timber extraction, it should be done with best management practices.
This is what makes this nation unique. Here, an ordinary citizen can access "America the Beautiful" in an ordinary manner. In Minnesota we all can experience the North Woods in a wild setting. We must never give this up. There are some things worth fighting for, this is one of them.
A right to use is not a right to abuse. The source of decay is the control that industry forcefully exerts over public land management agencies. Polaris, Arctic Cat and a plethora of organized off-highway vehicle clubs are continuing this power grab. A case in point was the Clinton-era roadless initiative where Big Oil, Big Timber, Big Mining and a host of off-highway vehicle clubs, well-organized and funded under the name of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, spent millions lobbying Congress to keep U.S. Forest Service roads open in wilderness areas.
This is not about closing roads for public access; it is about corporate access. To these people, our public lands mean nothing more than making profits and being a marketplace for motorized "wreckreation" and extractive industry.
It is shameful that the once-respected Minnesota DNR has placed damaging motorized recreation, sulfide mines and oil pipelines over the health and beauty of the special natural places in our state. When I am too old or become unable to enter these public lands in an ordinary manner, I will be OK. As long as I know they are still there — that the wolves still howl and hunt under the full moon, the water is still pristine enough to drink and the big pines still sing when a cool lakeland breeze soughs through their boughs and breaks the wilderness silence.
Barry W. Babcock lives in Bemidji, Minn.