Open letter to the city of Whitehorse and the Yukon government:
The Yukon Conservation Society applauds the Yukon Off-Road Riders Association and the Trails Only Yukon Association for their recent collaboration on the off-road vehicle issue. The conservation society echoes both groups’ call for the Yukon government to impose an immediate moratorium on the creation of new trails until the public consultation process has been completed, until the government has adequately assessed the effects of trail-breaking on wildlife, and the select committee has effectively ascertained how best to protect the environment.
We are pleased that YTG has issued a public opinion survey on off-road vehicles and we encourage all Yukoners to complete the survey before the October 31 deadline.
However, we are concerned that the survey does not ask all the important questions. The environmental impacts of off-road vehicles are not adequately addressed in the survey. But, this is because the survey will support revisions to the Motor Vehicles Act. The survey is not intended to inform revisions to other acts (such as the wildlife or environment acts) Ã but it should be!
Many people have been contacting the conservation society lately to raise their concerns about impacts of motorized vehicles in off-road environments. People are dismayed by the continued off-road vehicle abuse in backcountry wilderness areas, and they are upset to find that even existing regulations and bylaws are not enforced.
Currently, the city of Whitehorse is reviewing its off-road vehicle bylaws, but what benefit is there to that without enforcement?
The city has recently purchased its own off-road vehicles for policing Whitehorse trails, but Whitehorse is a big area for a single enforcement officer. Citizens need to help by calling the city and reporting offences when they are committed.
With respect to the city’s current bylaw consultations, we’d like to see more nonoperators involved in the process, because off-road vehicle organizations, businesses, and operators alone can only provide one perspective Ã that of the rider. What about everyone else?
We see a role for the conservation society as a stakeholder on the off-road-vehicles issue, particularly from the viewpoint of the non-off-road vehicles user. We feel that wildlife and other nonusers also deserve a say in how and where these machines can be used in a safe and respectful way. Other trail users have needs too: we need space, safe, walkable and breathable trails, and peace and freedom from noise pollution. Peace and quiet is an integral part of wildlife success, and a reason why many people choose to live here.
And the Yukon is also a fragile and exceptionally vulnerable environment. The land is dry, and the soil is marginal. Impacts to northern landscapes are far more lasting and damaging than in the south.
I hope that we never underestimate the quality of life we have now with this wilderness around us. It is too precious to lose it to destructive play and mismanagement.
The conservation society would like to see the off-road vehicles issue be recognized not only as a safety issue, but also as an environmental issue. We would like to see it addressed not only under the Motorized Vehicle Act, but also under the Environment Act.
When considering legislation related to off-road vehicles, we ask the powers-that-be to remember the “off-road” part of the acronym and make a point of consulting those with an understanding of environmental-science, and of health and the human-nature relationship.
Yukon Conservation Society