Ninety three per cent of Yukoners support restricting ATVs in fragile wetlands and alpine meadows, according to a poll by DataPath Systems.
These results show that residents opposed to curbing where quads roam are a small but vocal minority, said Ken Taylor, a founder of Trails Only Yukon.
The pressure group has pushed for ATV regulations over the past two years, only to find that politicians of every stripe are reluctant to wade into the contentious issue.
Judging by the poll, which was commissioned by Trails Only, these fears are misplaced, said Taylor.
“The only debate is over which party is willing to act,” he said.
According to the poll results, just seven per cent of respondents were opposed to any type of restrictions being put on ATV use to protect Yukon wilderness.
Forty-two per cent agreed to limits on ATV use in extremely sensitive areas, such as wetlands and alpine meadows. Fifty-one per cent agreed to restricting ATV use in all situations.
The poll is considered accurate within six percentage points. That means the range of public opinion in support of some regulation could vary from 87 per cent to 99 per cent.
Either way, “an overwhelming majority of Yukoners are saying to government, ‘Let’s get going,’” said Taylor. “It’s time.”
Eighty-seven per cent of respondents supported excluding ATVs from fragile habitats. Eighty-four per cent supported restricting the growth of trail networks in sensitive areas.
Eighty-two per cent supported keeping ATVs on designated trails. And 69 per cent supported closing trails or overused areas as necessary.
Trails Only wants to see ATVs restricted to hard-packed trails. Use of dirt trails would be decided by the local renewable resource council.
The group also wants a ban on cutting new trails until new legislation is in place. Given the thousands of kilometres of trails already pushed through the wilderness, that shouldn’t be a burden, said Taylor.
Respondents gave a cooler response to this proposal. Fifty-three per cent said yes. Twenty-eight per cent said no. Nineteen per cent were unsure.
For Taylor, this hit home the importance of introducing new rules quickly, so that ATV riders aren’t left waiting around in uncertainty while new laws are written.
Taylor, a retired high school principal, likens the current state of affairs to trying to control a rambunctious Grade 7 class by asking them to behave, while making it clear there’d be no consequences for acting out.
Critics say ATV restrictions would be too difficult to police. But Taylor insists the proposed laws would be no different from speed limits: residents may break them periodically, but most Yukoners would want to follow the rules.
And that would result in fewer ugly scars marring Yukon’s fragile hinterland. This damage, once done, takes decades to disappear.
And it’s only getting worse.
Tony Grabowski, a retired conservation officer, went hiking last year into the bush off the South Canol Road. He found a muddy ATV track that carried on through two and a half kilometres of wetland.
This year he returned. The tracks had grown to 14.5 kilometres.
“It’s quite a mess,” said Taylor.
An all-party legislative committee agreed access should be restricted in certain cases. But it didn’t offer any clear directions on how the government should act next.
Trails Only would like to see a panel of experts hash out the details of how new legislation would work. And they’re asking for Yukon’s political parties to introduce new laws in their next terms of office.
Trails Only has more than 300 members. And it intends to make ATV regulation an issue during the coming election, which may be called as soon as today.
The group will try to pin down where each candidate stands. They’ll ask each one three unambiguous questions about ATV regulation. The results will be published in newspapers during the election campaign.
Trails Only is staying clear of aligning itself with any one political party.
“We’re not telling people how to vote,” said Taylor.
No party has staked out an official position on ATV regulation, but opposition leaders have expressed their views.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson supports Trails Only’s proposals. Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell disagrees with the group – he’d prefer to try education campaigns before introducing restrictions.
And the Yukon Party is mum on the matter. When Premier Darrell Pasloski was asked about the issue in the summer, he said he would need to study it first.
Trails Only continues to collect photos of the damage wrought by ATVs to the Yukon’s landscape. And they’ve also taken a more artistic approach.
Doug Urquhart recently drew several illustrations, in a style similar to Ted Harrison, that provide a more humourous take on the issue.
One drawing, named “Yukon Tartan,” shows a criss-cross of ATV tracks across hillsides that have been brightly coloured in the style of its namesake.
The poll was conducted one month ago with 275 Yukoners selected from DataPath’s online panel. That pool consists of respondents randomly recruited over the past 10 years.
Responses were weighted by community, gender and age to represent Yukon’s actual population.
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