ATV consultation is stuck in 1980: TOYA

The Trails Only Yukon Association is criticizing a government consultation on ATV regulation that it says is 30 years behind the times.

The Trails Only Yukon Association is criticizing a government consultation on ATV regulation that it says is 30 years behind the times.

A discussion document describes how the government may restrict ATV use in identified sensitive areas.

Given how the Yukon government first flagged the issue in the 1980s and that other jurisdictions have already developed and adopted comprehensive ATV management plans that work, this consultation falls way short of a solution, said Vern Peters, a member of the TOYA steering committee, in a news conference on Thursday.

“If this process is followed, will any of us here still be alive when something happens?” he asked.

The consultation document itself hides the severity of the extent of ATV damage already in the wilderness, said Peters.

“If you look at the pictures in this document, they’re all beautiful. Do you see any muddy trails in the alpine? So you see any mud bogs in the wetlands? Do you see any of the ATVs that are presently around in the Yukon – do you see tracked Argos, the big side-by-sides, the machines that look more like tanks than ATVs? No, you don’t see that.

“The pictures say don’t worry, be happy, there’s no problem here. But that is not the case.”

TOYA member Ken Taylor said he recalls flying into a remote area 30 miles from the Robert Campbell Highway last year and being “truly shocked” at the ATV trails that had fanned out through the area.

“The trail networks were around every single mountain, dug in deep, into the tundra above the tree line, through the creeks,” he said. “I was absolutely amazed.”

The pilot, a wilderness tourism guide, said he used to be able to guarantee caribou sightings in the area, but he hasn’t seen one in five years, Taylor said.

“It seems almost impossible to imagine that a government would think that the best way to manage and plan for the use of land in the Yukon is to do nothing, to allow trail cutting wherever they want.”

The proposed process is inadequate because it is complaint-driven, meaning that damage has to occur in an area before something is done about it, said Peters.

“You make the problem worse. As soon as you manage one area that’s damaged, those that do damage move on to the next area, and then the next area. It’s the domino effect.”

Furthermore, since the government is not proposing to mandate licence plates, enforcement would be next to impossible.

“We heard (then-Environment Minister Currie) Dixon on the radio not so long ago talking about, oh we don’t need licence plates, we can just say it’s a yellow ATV with a guy with a blue helmet on,” said Taylor. “Well I would challenge Mr. Dixon to take that to a judge and see how long he lasts in court. He’d be thrown out on his ear, quite frankly.”

TOYA suggested that the government has made the discussion document deliberately hard to access, read and respond to because it is not interested in what Yukoners have to say.

If you know where to look, the document can be downloaded from the Energy, Mines and Resources website, printed, filled out by hand and mailed back to the government.

With a little tech savvy, you can now download the document, fill it out on screen, save it and email it back. This option was only included after TOYA asked for something easier to work with, Peters said.

Peters and Taylor said Yukon government officials are competent people who are well aware of ATV management plans in other jurisdictions and know how to build appropriate consultation, but there is a lack of political direction to get that done.

TOYA surveyed 217 people at the trade show earlier this month, and 95 per cent agreed that wilderness ATV use should be managed, according to the group.

Not all Yukoners, however, want to see new rules to restrict their access to the wilderness.

Preston Griffiths started a Facebook group earlier this month called Yukon 4×4 & ATV users against aspects of YTG off-road vehicle legislation. It had 193 members as of Friday morning.

Griffiths is also concerned about the vagueness of the process proposed by the government.

He’s afraid that whoever is put in power to make the rules will be able to close down “any trail, anywhere, for any reason,” he said.

“It’s just going to become the snowball effect of regulations and rules and pretty soon you’re not going to be able to go anywhere and do anything.

“I’m afraid that it’s going to be completely illegal to drive through any mud, it’s going to be completely illegal to go up into the mountains.”

He doesn’t want to see the Yukon end up like other jurisdictions, where signs and gates block access to trails.

“A bunch of ugly government signs in my opinion is more of an environmental impact than a bit of muddy ruts on the ground.”

He said he’d be fine with licence plate rules (he uses his licensed pick-up truck as an off-road vehicle) but doesn’t want to see any blanket restrictions on access in the territory.

The focus should be on educating and punishing those who are doing the damage, and not everyone else, said Griffiths.

“Everything is regulated to protect the lowest common denominator, for the most ignorant person that’s going to do the stupidest thing, and then they apply those rules to every person.

“If you like all the regulations and all of that stuff and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, then go back to B.C. or Alberta or Toronto, where they have it, and you can feel all happy and warm and fuzzy.

“Pretty soon you’re going to need a permit to take a piss in the woods.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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