Open letter to the Select Committee on the Safe Operation and Use of Off-road Vehicles:
There has recently been much discussion about off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, stimulated in part by the Yukon legislature’s current Select Committee on the Safe Operation and Use of Off-road Vehicles.
This discussion has often focused on the very real issues of human safety and aesthetics, especially in urban areas.
No doubt the committee will address these issues in its recommendations. My interest, however, is in how we use off-road vehicles in more remote settings.
Many of us use off-road vehicles in remote and natural environments for good economic and recreational reasons.
However, these vehicles can seriously damage wild, natural environments if not used responsibly.
They can dig up wetland and alpine plant communities with long-term effects, destroy bird nests, and flatten the snowpack, which is a habitat itself.
They can push wildlife out of many key habitats, sometimes reducing the ability of females to reproduce.
Their presence in many landscapes also reduces the aesthetic and spiritual experience of wildness that many Yukoners and visitors seek in our backcountry.
Submissions to the standing committee have included clear recommendations on solutions to these problems. They include presenting drivers with educational materials on the potential negative impacts of wildlife and habitats as part of a mandatory course on driver safety and etiquette, and implementing a trails-only approach to backcountry travel where drivers are not allowed to travel away from certain roads and trails.
They also include bans on travel in certain habitats or landscapes so as to limit impacts and maintain a high quality wilderness experience.
I urge the committee to seriously tackle this difficult question of backcountry use of off-road vehicles and to recommend legislative, regulatory and educational tools to bring the Yukon up-to-date with other Canadian jurisdictions that have tackled the issue.
Wildlife and wild places cannot vote, so they often get overlooked by politicians. However, as responsible stewards of their world, we must take their needs into account. Now is the time to do it. With some reflection, I think we will realize that wildlife’s needs do not differ so very much from our own needs, in the long term.
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada