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Proposed Rule Allows Limited ATV Use On Vermont's Public Lands

ATV-Hardwick-AP-Toby-Talbot-20090730.jpg
Toby Talbot
/
AP
The proposed rule would allow public land to be used to create connector trails for ATV users, like those seen here in Hardwick in July 2009.

The state is poised to create a process for allowing use of all-terrain vehicles on public lands. The proposed rule would permit ATV connector trials on public lands when they link to trail systems on private property.

In 2009 a rule allowing such use sparked heated debate but this time there is much more support than opposition.

Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Louis Porter says that’s because the proposed rule will establish a more stringent and public process for approving individual connector trails.

“It’s important that people know that any connector trail that is established will go through a rule-making process, so there will be public comment, public input, suggestions to the agency on any additional trails that are established,”says Porter.

He says it will be up to local chapters of VASA, the Vermont All-Terrain Vehicles Sportsman's Association, to maintain the trails.

“Our goal is that by allowing these connector trails in certain circumstances we will actually reduce illegal ATV riding and off-trail riding,” Porter says.

Under the proposed rule, a half mile connector trail would be established in Stockbridge.

No others are currently proposed and Porter says it’s not clear how many opportunities there are for more connector trails. 

“I would expect you will see in future years more requests for more designation of trails, but the criteria are set out pretty carefully on what circumstances those would be considered and allowed, and it also sets out this process that will allow public input on each of those trails,” he says.

The Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club opposes ATV connector trails on public lands. Mark Nelson, who chairs the chapter, says the rule may be different from the one  proposed in 2009, but the result is the same.

“The negative impacts are still going to be there,” he says.

In a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Department Nelson said the environmental impacts of ATVs are well-documented and, he argued, their use is harmful to other recreational activities on state land.

Nelson believes the rule is a first step that will lead to ever-increasing use of ATVS on public land and he raises concerns that more trails will be established on private property near state lands to take advantage of the opportunity to build the connector trails.

The proposed rule will go before the Legislative Rules Committee for review later this month.

"I would expect you will see in future years more requests for more designation of trails, but the criteria are set out pretty carefully on what circumstances those would be considered and allowed, and it also sets out this process that will allow public input on each of those trails." - Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Louis Porter

In 2009 the committee raised concerns about the legality of the previous rule and the Agency of Natural Resources ultimately withdrew it in the face of a court challenge.

The agency believes it has addressed those concerns, because the new rule creates a process for approving connector trails that involves other state agencies, the legislature and the public.

However, Nelson says the Sierra Club is looking into the legality of the new rule.

“We are not going to drop this, we are going to continue to pursue it,” he says.

The Vermont Natural Resource Council also expressed opposition to the rule, but the overwhelming majority of comments from both the public and organizations were in support of it.

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