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Four Wheeler Debate

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(Atlanta-AP) --

A simmering debate over all-terrain vehicles in the north Georgia forests has returned to the Legislature, with the House expected to vote in coming weeks on whether four-wheelers should be allowed on dirt roads in protected lands.

The off-road issue has left lawmakers inundated with emotional pleas from both sides -- A-T-V enthusiasts who want more freedom and environmentalists who fear A-T-V's are ruining plant species and creek beds in areas intended for protection.

Tempers flare quickly on both sides. Mike Thomas is a retiree in Blue Ridge who lobbies for A-T-V's in his spare time. He says -- quote -- "I've been up here all my life.

We've been using our A-T-V's for 20 or more years on forest roads. ... This is discrimination."

At the center of the debate are license plates. For years, some county tag offices would sell plates to A-T-V owners. That practice stopped in 2000, when state officials directed the counties to stop issuing tags because small A-T-V's aren't legal on roads.

The U-S Forest Service requires vehicles to be licensed on their roads, so Georgia          A-T-V's haven't been allowed on Service-owned roads for three years.

Forest officials provide 130 miles of trails for A-T-V use in Georgia -- but the other 16-hundred miles of Forest Service roads are off-limits.