Half measures won’t help our hinterland

Geography geeks have lots of fancy words to describe landscape features. Let us propose a new one: An ugly spiderweb of all-terrain vehicle ruts that scars Yukon's fragile hinterland may be known as a "currie."

Geography geeks have lots of fancy words to describe landscape features. Let us propose a new one: An ugly spiderweb of all-terrain vehicle ruts that scars Yukon’s fragile hinterland may be known as a “currie,” after Environment Minister Currie Dixon.

This may seem uncharitable, given how Dixon’s government recently passed legislation that would, in theory, outlaw such damage in sensitive areas. But there is good reason to worry that these new laws will be unenforceable, thanks to the half-hearted designs endorsed by the minister.

It only stands to reason that a successful prosecution under the new laws would depend on a scofflaw rider being somehow identifiable. In much of Canada, this is not a problem, as ATVs are expected to be registered and to bear license plates. But Dixon, knowing that such a requirement would upset some hot-headed supporters, has apparently made a political calculation that crafting an effective law isn’t worth the bother. The new laws only require ATVs that are operated on maintained roads to be registered, leaving those roaming off-road off the hook.

Naysayers of ATV regulation typically harumph that there’s no point making rules that a few bad apples won’t follow anyway. Yet, if we were to apply this impossibly high standard more broadly, we would soon be chucking out most of our laws. The real question isn’t whether all bozos will be caught, but whether the threat of being busted is enough to deter some people from engaging in stupid behaviour that is making a mess of Yukon’s backcountry. Vehicle registration would go a long way to make this threat credible.

Workable ATV regulation also requires the territorial government to throw adequate resources behind enforcement. So far, the government remains mum on these details. And we’ve yet to hear anything about which areas would be declared off limits. In short, there’s little reason to think the Yukon Party is interested in creating the conditions for these laws to succeed in their stated aims.

Not long ago, Dixon made the trite suggestion that scofflaws could be successfully prosecuted under the new laws through identifying riders based on the colour of their helmets and vehicles. Good luck with that holding up in court. Clearly, the minister doesn’t take this issue seriously. That’s a disservice to the hundreds of Yukoners who have taken the time to tell the government that they don’t want to see the territory’s backcountry recklessly damaged by a small number of irresponsible residents.

This seems to be the typical Yukon Party way of diffusing a political issue it would rather not deal with in the first place – by going through the motions of pretending to take concerns seriously and eventually committing to a half measure that doesn’t actually get the job done.

Credit goes to Trails Only Yukon, a group of residents – some of whom ride ATVs – who have spent the past five years making a sensible case for ATV regulation. As they note, Yukoners already must register their boats. It’s hard to understand why it would be an unreasonable burden to expect the same of ATVs, especially if this is the collective price that must be paid to ensure Yukon’s sensitive alpine areas don’t become further wrecked.

It looks like it will fall on a future government to complete this job. In the meantime, the next time ATVs rip up the backcountry, we should remember Dixon has mud on his hands.