Proposal aims to improve snowmobile, ATV safety

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Capital News Service
LANSING – A new bill aims to make snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle use and other trail hobbies safer by requiring that chains, ropes and wires  that block entry to any property be hunter orange in color and no more than 30 inches high.
Rep. Michael Lahti, D–Hancock, the primary sponsor, said the legislation is in response to a death on a trail in 2004 in Baraga County.
“Jason Lindemann was on an ATV, and he got caught in the neck by a chain,” Lahti said.  “He was able to crawl back to a camp site, but he didn’t make it.
“People don’t think about that risk when they’re putting up these chains and wires, that kind of thing.  They don’t want to do that and take somebody’s head off,” he said.
The safety concern is echoed by Bill Manson, the executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association in Grand Rapids.
“Obviously for safety reasons it would be important that any kind of rope or chain that was put across any kind of property be properly marked,” Manson said. “We certainly don’t encourage or want anyone to think that we’re encouraging trespassers, but there can still be mistakes.”
In the Upper Peninsula, for example, he said, “There’s so much corporate land and public land that snowmobiling is allowed on, and every once in a while, you do come out of those properties to get to a trail or a roadway and find out you’re on a piece of private property.
“There’s no fences, no signage or anything, but you go from corporate property to private hunting property accidentally.”
Trespassing snowmobilers also concern farmers.
Rebecca Park, a legislative counsel with the Michigan Farm Bureau, said her group has received complaints from “many areas of the state about off-the-road vehicles, snowmobiles and what have you going into fields.”
She said that young crops that haven’t fully sprouted are sometimes trampled and damaged by the vehicles.
Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, said the problem the bill addresses may be most common in the U.P.
“It’s more of an issue in the U.P., because you have people up there who ride off the trails,” said McDowell, a co-sponsor.  “You can just take off.  Like on my farm, you can just go across neighbors’ property.  Nobody has an issue with it.”
The other sponsors are Reps. Andy Neumann, D-Alpena and Steven Lindberg, D- Marquette.
The proposal would apply to corporate, public and private land that isn’t used to farm.
Park said the Farm Bureau opposed a similar bill last year because it would have had a more adverse effect on many farmers.
“The way the bill was written last year would have had a really, really big impact on most of our members,” Park said. “It’s often that you’ll have a lot of access points that would have had to be encased in hunter orange.  The way the bill is introduced this year, a lot of our farmer members would be exempt from doing that.”
Park said that the Farm Bureau took issue with further regulation of private property under the previous bill.
“From a property standpoint, we were very concerned with some of these off-road vehicles going in areas they shouldn’t be,” Park said. “At the same time, our members are of the opinion it’s private property.  So how much interference  should we have from the government on what we can and cannot do on our private property?”
Lahti cited the organization’s opposition as the main reason that the original bill didn’t go further.
Lahti said the revision accommodates farmers’ concerns so it has a better chance of passing.
“In order to get something rather than nothing, this is a bill that excludes the farmer,” Lahti said
The proposal is pending in the House Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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