Down East 2013 ©
A conference of landowners and recreationists last week demonstrated that ATVs remain a significant problem in Maine. Abusive ATV riders are a plague for landowners and a serious problem for those who enjoy outdoor recreation and lose access to their favorite private lands because of ATV abuse.
The conference was organized by the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) to gather ideas for a comprehensive statewide landowner relations program. The conference, held at SAM’s Augusta headquarters, was funded by SWOAM and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Landowners were frank about their problems, from illegal waste dumping to environmental damage by rogue ATV riders. And many good ideas were offered to resolve these problems. I’ll be reporting on the conference and those ideas later.
SWOAM will be taking the ATV problem back to the legislature in 2011 for more work.
A recent report from Governor John Baldacci’s ATV Task Force includes recommended legislation. My July 13, 2010 blog included information about the failure of the legislature to act on a key ATV bill last session and the Governor’s task force.
SWOAM’s Board of Directors recently voted to submit four ATV bills for legislative consideration.
One bill would repeal of the requirement that law enforcement officers need reasonable suspicion to stop an ATV. “This was a big issue last session and the bill to repeal this rule failed when the issue became partisan in the Senate. A number of legislators have already come forward and are eager to sponsor this bill,” reports SWOAM’s Executive Director Tom Doak.
A second SWOAM bill would hold landowners harmless for environmental damage caused by unauthorized ATV use. Currently if an ATV rider causes environmental damage and is not apprehended, the landowner must repair that damage at his own expense.
A third SWOAM bill would increase ATV registration fees and direct the increased fees to a fund to mitigate damage caused by ATV use. An ATV Task Force in 2005 recommended creation of a mitigation fund, but the idea died for lack of funding. SWOAM has also suggested that mitigation funds could be raised by repealing the sales tax exemption on ATVs sold to nonresidents.
SWOAM’s final bill would require ATV riders to be licensed. While ATVs must be registered, a license is not required to operate an ATV. SWOAM’s Doak notes that, “a person who violates ATV operating rules may lose the right to register an ATV, but can still operate an ATV registered to anyone else.” SWOAM proposes the licensing requirement so ATV riders who violate the law can be stopped from riding any ATV for a period of time.
These bills will surely generate lots of debate and a good measure of push-back from the ATV community, where clubs are working to resolve problems at the local level and ATV-Maine is leading the way at the state level to encourage responsible riding with a lot of help from the state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands that continues to create new ATV trails throughout the state.