Cloquet forest restricting ATVs
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - More than a thousand miles of ATV trails crisscross the Cloquet Valley State Forest north of Duluth, a web that hunters have long used in their pursuit of deer and grouse.
But this fall there are more than 500 signs that mark about one-fifth of that network as off-limits to all-terrain vehicles - something many hunters aren’t happy about.
“I know there are going to be a lot of people who drive up there right before deer season and say, ‘What the heck is this?’” said Phil Keppers of Duluth, who has hunted deer and grouse in the forest.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed the forest-management plan for the state forest in December. Under it, about 232 miles of the 1,017 miles of ATV trails in the forest are closed because they pass through wetlands, are redundant or cannot sustain ATV use.
Hunters use their ATVs in the 300,000-acre forest to hunt ruffed grouse, to get to their hunting shacks and d eer stands and to haul game out of the woods. Some are taking their unhappiness with the restrictions out on the new signs.
“They’re being spray-painted, being bent over or being picked up, removed - gone,” said DNR conservation officer Kipp Duncan. “There haven’t been a lot shot yet, but that’s because people aren’t carrying guns yet. That will happen.”
The firearms deer season starts Nov. 7 in Minnesota.
Although the implementation for the Cloquet Valley State Forest plan will happen officially on Dec. 31, enforcement of the new regulations can begin when closure signs are posted, said Brian McCann, a DNR planner in St. Paul.
That process will prove trickier if some signs have been taken down, but not impossible. “Even if the signs are gone, they have been posted and it would still be an illegal operation (of an ATV),” Duncan said.
The reclassification of trails in the forest was part of a statewide mandate to classify all state forests. It wa s done by a committee that included representatives of the DNR and St. Louis County.
“The reason we did it (closing some areas to ATV use) was to try to provide some balance,” said Rich Staffon, DNR area wildlife manager at Cloquet. “We get a fair amount of people who call and are looking for a place to hunt where they don’t have to deal with crowds and ATVs. This is an effort to provide that option.”
Within the state forest, more than 400 private cabins - mostly deer shacks - are on land leased from the county.
“The Cloquet Valley forest is a checkerboard ownership,” said Dennis Fink, chairman of the St. Louis County Board, explaining why the county participated in the management plan. “For us to manage it differently would not have been consistent with the law.”
The forest plan allows ATV access to deer shacks in nearly all cases, but some of the now-closed trails were used by hunters to travel to their deer stands or to haul deer out of the woods.< /P>
“The thing that really gets me is that you can’t haul a deer out of there on an ATV,” said Duluth’s Keppers. “For me, personally, they’ve made this large area I’ve been hunting for many years not huntable anymore.”