Open letter to the Select Committee on the Safe Operation and Use of Off-road Vehicles:
The issue of ATV use in the Yukon has been discussed and debated for many years. Having heard the various positions, I would like to share an experience a friend and I had in 2008, make a couple of points and ask a couple of questions.
My hunting partner and I left our vehicle at the end of a mining road and walked into the mountains for two days. On the fourth day we headed back to our truck.
Much to our surprise we were greeted by fresh Argo tracks at the kolle 300 feet over our camp, which had been situated at about 6100 feet in prime sheep habitat.
On our 20-kilometre hike back to the truck, we crossed the Argo track many times and stopped by the camp of the owners to chat. The three friendly fellows had two Argos in camp and when we asked about the route they had taken to get there, they told us it was up the old horse trail that my partner and I were using. They then asked us to not tell anyone about their route … kind of like a little secret.
An hour after leaving the camp we came to a 200-foot hill down to a lake that looked as though a bulldozer had been down it. Trees and willows were broken, the moss was worn away and bare mineral soil exposed.
Their little secret access would clearly be visible from the air and if high resolution photographs are added to Google Earth I know I’ll be able to see it there … as will everybody else who looks.
Pretty tough to keep that a secret.
In 2009, my hunting partner and I saw two Argos, three guys and the same tent 10 kilometres, by horse trail, farther into that same country.
My first point is, the argument the Yukon has only 35,000 people, so couldn’t possibly be overrun with ATVs, is false.
While we have relatively few people compared to other jurisdictions that have established various regulations and restrictions, we also have relatively few access points. What happens is that all users (hikers, bikers, horse-users, ATV users) end up starting from the same places.
The result is that the non-motorized users simply have fewer and fewer places to go that ATV users can’t get to.
Which prompts a question: While ATV users frequently refer to their rights to use their machines, what will the Yukon government do to protect the rights of non-ATV users to ensure they have places to go where they won’t be passed on a trail by a machine or see a machine on a distant ridge?
My concern is that even to access wilderness on foot we will all need to get an ATV to get to the end of the road, and push the “end of the road” farther and farther. I wonder where that road will end.
My second point is that essentially every other jurisdiction in North America has placed regulations/restrictions on ATV use and access. This invariably results from sober reflection and as a reaction to damage done, either to habitat, wildlife populations and, in some cases, the simple sense of wilderness being lost.
The population of the Yukon has grown in recent decades and all indications are that it will continue to grow.
I would simply hope the “last frontier” mindset will be replaced by a responsible, forward-thinking mindset.
Which prompts a second question: Will the Yukon government learn from the mistakes and lessons learned from across the continent and regulate/restrict ATV access before the landscape suffers further unnecessary damage; before wildlife populations get pushed farther back and to their limits; before the sense of wilderness that draws and keeps so many of us here is gone?
For the record, I am not against the use of ATVs. They play an important role in allowing people to access places, do their jobs and experience the landscape.
I do, however, think existing trails should be used to the greatest extent possible, off-trail use limited to things like retrieving game and certain industry- related uses (i.e. exploration), and that sensitive habitats and wildlife species should be protected from the disturbance created from high levels of human/machine activity (i.e. alpine areas and associated sheep and caribou habitats).
There are many other arguments and positions to be made, but I will limit mine to those above.
Thank you for reading about my experience and hearing my questions. I would welcome a response and consideration of my views as this issue moves forward and towards a resolution.