Legislation to expand ORV use on state-managed Michigan forest roads

With fall hunting seasons in full swing, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds off-road vehicle enthusiasts that while the expansion of ORV riding opportunities on state-managed forest roads in the Lower Peninsula is in the works, the new rules won’t go into effect until 2017 and 2018 – after the completion of a statewide inventory of forest roads.

The inventory will include the mapping of five regions, including four in the Lower Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula serves as one region and already allows ORV use on most state forest roads.

On Sept. 28, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 288 of 2016. The approved legislation sets forth a timeline for the new rules to go into effect. This includes examination of the two northernmost regions in the Lower Peninsula by the end of 2017 and the remaining regions by the end of 2018. This review will allow the DNR to determine which forest roads should remain closed and which roads will be open for ORV use.

State-managed forest roads in the Upper Peninsula currently are open to ORV use unless closed by the DNR. The law has been the opposite in the Lower Peninsula, where state forest roads are closed to ORV use unless posted as open.

“This bill is a step toward building a more unified approach to ORV regulations by making the rules in the Lower Peninsula align with those in the U.P.,” said Bill O’Neill, chief of the DNR Forest Resources Division. “By closely reviewing these areas before opening them to ORV use, the DNR – in cooperation with the public – has the opportunity to make science-based decisions that ensure sensitive areas in our state forests remain protected, while offering access to Michigan’s quality trails network.”

O’Neill, who also serves as state forester for Michigan, said those special areas will include wetlands, vernal pools and other critical habitats in the state forest system.

“The DNR will be proactive in identifying the Lower Peninsula state forest roads that will be opened up for ORV use,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “We are excited about the expansion of ORV use on forest roads, so we can build on the extensive trail system that already exists and attract even more ORV enthusiasts from near and far.”

As DNR staff completes the preliminary road inventory and mapping processes, the recommendations will be available for public input. The maps of state forest roads available for ORV use will be posted annually for the public. Local units of government will receive notification of new restrictions placed on roads or trails accessing public land.

Use of ORVs and pack or saddle animals for game retrieval
In addition to the opening of state forest roads, Public Act 288 also reinstates the use of ORVs and pack or saddle animals for retrieval of harvested deer, bear and elk on state-managed public lands on which hunting is permitted.

The new law allows an individual to leave a designated ORV or pack-and-saddle trail to retrieve harvested deer, bear and elk by using the most direct route that does not enter a stream, river or wetland except over a bridge, culvert or similar structure. ORVs being utilized for the retrieval of game cannot travel more than 5 mph when they are off the designated trail. This new law does not allow pack-and-saddle animals or ORVs to be used for hunting or otherwise traversing state-managed land.

For more information about Michigan’s state forest system, visit www.michigan.gov/forestry. To learn more about ORV use on state-managed land, go to www.michigan.gov/orvinfo.