DNR Opens Huge Forest to ATV Drivers
200 miles of new routes in North Woods. Big victory for big lobbyist, ATV company Polaris.
The decision this week by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s policy board to open a huge forest in the North Woods to all-terrain vehicles is a victory for Polaris, the Wisconsin ATV/UTV Association (WATVA), and all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts.
The board approved a plan for 202 miles of routes for all-terrain vehicles through the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest near Minocqua. It spans Iron, Vilas, and Oneida counties, and at least in Vilas County, the board there has repeatedly voted down the opening of the forest to ATV drivers.
Polaris is one of the biggest manufacturers of all-terrain and utility vehicles. It is based in Minnesota, and its chairman and CEO, Scott Wine, gave Gov. Scott Walker $5,000 in 2012, $10,000 in 2014, and $5,000 in 2016.
“The company has spent money in the Wisconsin state Capitol as well, reporting expenditures of $412,193 to lobby state government officials since 2009,” according to a recent article by Steve Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal.
The company’s lobbyist, Forbes McIntosh, the president of Government Policy Solutions, has donated about $73,500 to current legislators and legislative campaign committees since 2009. He gave $33,000 to the two Republican legislative campaign committees, and $24,050 to the two Democratic ones. (It should be noted that he and his company have other clients than just Polaris.)
WATVA calls itself “the nation’s leading organization for ATVing and UTVing.” Its president, Randy Harden, of Sheboygan, gave Walker $817.75 between 2009 and 2017. Harden is a big advocate for opening up the forest, as he explained earlier this week on Wisconsin Public Radio (on the second half of the show).
Nature lovers, some deer hunters, friends of wildlife and people who live near the forests and who aren’t ATV enthusiasts are concerned that this decision by the DNR will disrupt wildlife and destroy the tranquility and ecology of the giant forest.
Under the Walker administration and the Republican-dominated legislature, the ATV lobby previously succeeded in lowering the age restriction for operating utility terrain vehicles (UTV) from 16 to 12, and in changing the legal definition of small all-terrain vehicles to increase engine power.