Snowmobilers and users of off-highway vehicles would need to be extra careful under a bill approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.
HF2819, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), would increase civil penalties and establish specific civil citation authority for trespassing while operating a snowmobile or off-highway vehicle. The bill would authorize conservation officers and other licensed peace officers to issue civil citations to drivers who violate certain snowmobile provisions.
It was referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee after an 18-1 vote. There is no Senate companion.
The bill, supported by the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association and the Minnesota ATV Association, seeks to deter trespassing by raising the fines.
The penalties for violating existing off-highway vehicles, or the proposed snowmobile and trespass provisions, would more than double. The penalty for a first offense would rise to $250 from $100. A second offense would result in a $500 fine as opposed to $200. Subsequent penalties would incur a $1,000 fine. Previously, the subsequent penalties were $500.
The money would be used to increase enforcement of snowmobile laws.
“The current fine structure does not deter trespass,” said Doug Franzen, representing the snowmobilers association. “For a lot of landowners, the trespass is a very serious problem, be it ATV, snowmobile, OHV, whatever; particularly if they planted, for example, a winter wheat crop. A lot of times these machines are capable of tearing that up.”
According to Franzen, there are more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails in the state. Of those, 900-1,000 miles are state trails. The rest are grant-made trails developed and maintained by snowmobile clubs.
In many cases, landowners have permitted public access to their lands for recreation. But there are instances of recreational vehicle users going off the permissible trail.
“Landowners don’t like trespass,” Franzen said. “Without our landowners, at least 20,000 miles of those 22,000 miles disappear. They are doing a public service and we want to do everything to support them. In fact, we want to do everything we can to support a safe and responsible culture of snowmobiling and other outdoor recreation.”