Now, get on with it …

Now, get on with it ... In my opinion, the report of the select committee on the safe operation and use of off-road vehicles provides an accurate account of public opinion and provides fair recommendations to address many public concerns. As stated in th

In my opinion, the report of the select committee on the safe operation and use of off-road vehicles provides an accurate account of public opinion and provides fair recommendations to address many public concerns.

As stated in the report, “Off-road vehicle use, (including environmental concerns and restrictions on where off-road vehicles should be able to travel), is a complex matter requiring analysis of several pieces of legislation, i.e. the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act, Yukon Highways Act, Yukon Lands Act, Yukon Environment Act, Yukon Wildlife Act, Yukon Forest Protection Act, and any others that may be applicable. In addition to the legislation that must be analyzed and considered, the variety of users and uses including, but not limited to, recreation, hunting, trapping, outfitting, resource industries, and tourism, must also be considered.

“As legislators, the government has a duty to address the issue in a way that is positive, proactive, and forward-looking. To be fair and balanced to all user groups and citizens, and acknowledge the importance of appropriately protecting environment and wildlife.”

This is true.

But, have the recommendations effectively addressed the issues? Yes and no.

It’s important to keep in mind that it was an off-road vehicle accident and injury that prompted this study Ð focused on amending the motor vehicle’s act from a public safety standpoint.

The study was not originally intended to deal with off-road use or environmental damage, and only considered these broader issues in response to public demand.

This is indeed a complex issue with many aspects to consider.

In my opinion, the committee has done a good job articulating the many issues in a consolidated, easily understood document.

However, with respect to the public demand and in light of the information gathered, more recommendations could have been made for addressing more of the broader issues.

For example, the report states the matter requires analysis of several pieces of legislation. Why then, did the committee only recommend amendments to the motor vehicle act? I would have liked to have seen recommendations that other relevant acts also be reviewed to see if they too need to be amended to better address the issues of off-road vehicles.

In the concluding statement, the committee mentions, “Yukon is the last jurisdiction in Canada without legislation specifically governing the operation and use of off-road vehicles.” And goes on to say, “This issue is important to Yukoners and to the Yukon.”

So, why didn’t the committee recommend government enact legislation specifically governing off-road vehicles?

One thing that was emphasized in the report was the need for efficient and effective enforcement.

“Yukoners repeatedly commented on the futility of enacting more laws that can’t or won’t be enforced.” Yukoners want “education and enforcement of existing rules before new or additional regulations are considered É that without strict enforcement and serious consequences, new rules will have little impact on the irresponsible thrill-seekers … calls for increased enforcement in and around the Whitehorse area. Suggested methods of enforcement included the RCMP, bylaw officers, conservation officers, water inspectors and possibly even a program similar to Turn in Poachers.”

With the magnitude of feedback regarding the need for enforcement of existing laws, why did the committee only recommend that the enforcement issue be addressed for “municipalities” and their “bylaws” specifically?

The recommendation should have also addressed the need for enforcement Yukon-wide, including enabling RCMP, conservation officers, and other government agencies and authorities to identify offenders and enforce existing laws.

And what are the existing laws anyway? I really appreciated the three recommendations related to education in the report.

3. That government undertake an extensive advertising/educational campaign to raise public awareness of any and all existing restrictions on off-road vehicle use along with penalties and means of enforcement.

4. That government undertake an educational campaign which, in addition to existing laws and regulations, focuses on the safe, responsible and respectful operation of off-road vehicles as well as environmental stewardship.

10. That government encourage and support voluntary driver training on the safe and environmentally responsible operation of ATVs and snowmobiles.

These are great recommendations, and they are ones that many organizations can really support.

In fact, we already are making an effort to do our parts. But, there is much more to be done, and we need the government to play a much more substantial role in this important work. We need the government to work with us, and help bring cohesiveness to our efforts, and to ensure that our educational campaigns are meaningful and, where appropriate, government sanctioned.

The government needs to get behind a strong educational campaign about appropriate off-road vehicle use for there to be any headway made on addressing the broader issues surrounding them. I really hope that the government will implement the recommendations pertaining to public education.

Now, the final recommendation made by the committee was with respect to the issue of environmental damages and impacts by off-road vehicles. Throughout the report, the need to protect Yukon’s fragile environment was repeated.

The report stated, “While it is clear there are strong arguments to be made for further restrictions on off-road vehicle access to some areas, the committee does not have sufficient knowledge or expertise to determine which areas should be restricted.”

In view of this, I think the committee did a good job with its closing recommendation:

14. That off-road vehicle legislation and regulations provide for the ability to mitigate environmental damage and cumulative negative impacts to sensitive wildlife and fish habitats. Ensure that legislation and/or regulations provide for the ability to restrict the growth of trail networks in sensitive areas, to close trails or overused areas as necessary, to exclude off-road vehicles from specific types of land or habitats, and to have certain areas designated as access routes only;

That environmental and access restrictions be implemented in areas where problems exist or are developing and, when not required for wildlife or environmental protection, efforts be made not to reduce access to existing use areas;

That government review penalties for environmental damage caused by any method, motorized or nonmotorized means, to ensure penalties are appropriate. The committee further recommends that government take steps to improve public awareness of these penalties; and

That, government consider separate environmental protection legislation that targets and penalizes environmental damage rather than restricting specific users.

This recommendation is great in that it addresses the problem in a fair and inclusive way, respecting both the needs of wildlife and habitat for proper protection, and the needs of off-road vehicle operators to have appropriate places to be able to ride responsibly. And the committee has left it to the authorities with the knowledge and professional expertise to determine the appropriate laws and regulations that will meet the goals of this recommendation.

One weakness, however, is that it recommends legislation and appropriate penalties and awareness of those penalties, but again, doesn’t address enforcement of those penalties, restrictions, or legislation. It also doesn’t specify the relevant acts under which the legislation could fall.

But, this recommendation reinforces what we’ve understood as a key need for some time. Of all the recommendations the committee has put forward, this is the most important one for the government to implement if we are to gain any ground on protecting the Yukon from “the lasting effects that irresponsible off-roaders have on Yukon’s delicate ecosystems.”

And, this recommendation is another one the Yukon Conservation Society is really ready to support.

We’re already working on bringing together a task force of experienced professionals as well as representatives from other nongovernment organizations and user groups to identify and analyze existing trails and come to consensus on their appropriateness for off-road vehicles and other uses and users.

It would be great if the government would share ownership of the responsibility to effectively manage off-road vehicles’ effects on the environment and take a lead role in this important project now underway.

I think all the committees’ recommendations are reasonable and I would ask the government to accept its recommendations and begin implementing them sooner rather than later.

We’re ready for it.

Georgia Greetham

Yukon Conservation Society