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Survey: OHV use hurts habitat

A survey of the top managers of state fish and wildlife agencies across the U.S. found that the majority believe off-highway vehicles are damaging wildlife habitat and bothering hunters and anglers.

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A survey of the top managers of state fish and wildlife agencies across the U.S. found that the majority believe off-highway vehicles are damaging wildlife habitat and bothering hunters and anglers.

The survey, conducted by the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation group that seeks increased controls on OHVs, found that 83 percent of state wildlife agency directors who responded believe that misuse of OHVs has caused damage to wildlife habitat in their state.

About 72 percent of the wildlife directors who responded said OHV misuse has disrupted hunting and hunting.

Of those who responded, 61 percent agreed or strongly agreed that OHVs were having a negative affect on hunting and habitat in their state, while39 percent were neutral and nonedisagreed.

Of fisheries managers, 60 percent said OHVs were negatively affecting fishing in general and fish habitat in their state.

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The top fish and wildlife agency managers in each state were given the surveys and promised strict anonymity. Of those, 34 agency heads from27 states responded.

The league released the poll results Wednesday while calling on Congress to enact new oversight of federal land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land management which the League says are not able to plan for sustainable OHV use or police illegal use.

The league called for more money to strengthen enforcement of illegal OHV use, designate trail systems to keep OHVs from cross-country travel, and to repair damage caused by OHVs in sensitive areas.

In most national forests and states, wardens and conservation officers are unable to keep up with the huge increase in OHV use, league members said.

"In my home state [Minnesota] we have the same number of conservation officers that we had in World War II, yet their duties have exploded with all sorts of new activities going on in the woods. They're doing a great job, but they just can't be everywhere they need to be," said Kevin Proescholdt, wilderness and public lands program manager for the Izaak Walton League of America, in a telephone news conference with reporters.

OHV supporters say erosion, damage and illegal use of the vehicles is spurred mostly by a lack of designated trails on which to ride and a few bad riders.

Officials from the Minnesota All Terrain Vehicle Association had not returned efforts to reach them Thursday or Friday morning.

League members were joined by hunters and anglers from Arizona, Nevada and Montana where efforts are under way to curb illegal ATV use. In Montana, a proposal has surfaced to link illegal ATV activity while hunting to revocation of hunting licenses and privileges.

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In Minnesota, OHV registrations have gone from 70,000 in 1995 to 130,000 in 2000 and more than 300,000 in 2007.

"ATV use has absolutely skyrocketed here," Montana elk hunter Daryl Olson said. "A few reckless riders are cutting illegal trails that the average rider then starts using, not knowing.''

League members said the league does not oppose the legal and ethical use of OHVs for hunting and angling based on state and federal law and fair chase standards.

"We're not an anti-OHV organization, we're anti-illegal activity," Proescholdt said. The report noted that about 20 percent of the league's members own their own ATV and 84 percent own a four-wheel drive vehicle.

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