OHVs and wetlands, lakes and rivers

In general, off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders should avoid riding in and around wetlands, lakes and rivers.

Avoid public waters: OHV riders need to use extra caution during drought years when lakes and river beds dry up. While the water has evaporated, the boundaries of public water beds remain and are illegal for OHVs to ride. You can find the public waters boundaries at the DNR website.

Be conservative: Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether you are in a wetland or a public water. Play it safe. When in doubt, don't ride there.

In 2004, the Minnesota State Legislature modified OHV wetland riding rules to permit operation in wetlands subject to Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) regulations (MS Chapt. 103G.2241). Under the WCA, impacts to all types of wetlands, not just type 3,4, 5, and 8, will be considered. If damage results, the law invokes a "de minimis" provision which allows for some minimal impact (up to 400 square ft.). In counties with more pre-settlement wetlands (80% or more), the de minimis threshold may actually be higher with approval of the County Board. Careless, reckless or unsafe operation remain unlawful and are punishable by fines and restitution.

Another important feature of the new wetland legislation is that exempted activities in wetlands (agricultural, utilities, etc.) are also exempted for OHVs. Finally, the DNR Commissioner was given the authority to issue permits up to 10 years in duration to exempt private landowners or leaseholders from this new law when the only reasonable access to a permit applicant's land is across state land. In sum, activities that "carelessly" upset the natural or ecological balance of a wetland or public waters wetland will trigger enforcement action. Clearly, OHVer's will need to exercise good judgment when they operate in or near a wetland.

Note: Public waters are all waterbasins and watercourses that meet the criteria set forth in Minnesota Statutes, Section 103G.005, subd. 15  . Public waters wetlands include all type 3, type 4, and type 5 wetlands (as defined in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Circular No. 39, 1971 edition) that are 10 acres or more in size in unincorporated areas or 2 1/2 acres or more in size in incorporated areas (see Minnesota Statutes Section 103G.005, subd. 17b  ). The boundary of a public water or wetland is considered the ordinary high water level.

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