The Trails Only Yukon Association is jump-starting a conversation about all terrain vehicle regulations in anticipation of government consultations later this year.
Spring has sprung, and already our neighbours from B.C., Alberta and Alaska are coming up to play in Yukon’s backcountry.
People come here because they’ve heard that we’re the last unregulated jurisdiction in North America for off-road vehicles, said Peter Harms at a news conference on Wednesday.
He saw one rig in the Wal-Mart parking lot recently where the ATVs were hoisted above the truck by hydraulic lift.
“I said, ‘Quite the rig.’ He said, ‘Yeah, love it here, everything is wide open.’ … That crew, they just came up here to play.”
But the freedom of the open backcountry can come with a cost.
Wet alpine meadows are easily rutted by ATV tires this time of year, and damage takes decades to heal. Sheep populations are easily disturbed and displaced during the lambing season.
Trails Only would like to see rules in place to keep off-road vehicles out of sensitive environments.
It released a common beliefs document this week to engage the public and the government in a conversation about how best to protect Yukon’s natural lands.
The Wilderness Tourism Association Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society have both endorsed the document.
Some of Trails Only’s common beliefs are likely to encounter little resistance. For example, “We agree that there is a legitimate place for responsible ATV use in the Yukon.”
Others will garner more resistance. “We agree that ATVs be registered and clearly identifiable.”
There are more than 5,000 ATVs in the Yukon, according to Trails Only.
Registering all of them would not only require a new bureaucratic regime, but would be an additional headache and cost to new and existing ATV users.
But it’s necessary, according to Trails Only, because without licence plates it would be impossible to catch those who skirt the rules.
B.C. introduced legislation earlier this year that will require one-time registration and plates for off-road vehicles.
The Yukon Fish and Game Association has not endorsed the Trails Only common beliefs.
But Gord Zealand, the association’s executive director, said his organization and TOYA are pretty much on the same page.
Registering ATVs wouldn’t be a popular initiative with all of its members, but the organization as a whole understands “it’s probably a path that we’re going to have to go down,” said Zealand.
“As a group, we realize that there has to be some method of identification, and with it comes certain costs.”
The Yukon government passed legislation late last year that allows for the regulation of ATVs in order to prevent damage to the environment.
But until regulations are passed, the unregulated status quo remains.
“We’re very pleased with that legislation,” said Harms. “But right now that legislation is a little bit like having a vehicle with no motor. It’s nice to look at, we’re glad we have it, but it can’t move, it can’t do anything. So until that happens, it just sits there.”
The Yukon government has indicated that it will consult the public on regulations later this year, he said.
The government did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but in the past has indicated that it prefers reacting to specific areas of concern rather that implementing territory-wide restrictions.
NDP environment critic Kate White said the government has been delaying for too long to implement ATV regulations.
“They paid lip service to environmental protection, but they’re not really doing anything about it.”
She supports Trails Only’s work because it focuses on promoting safe and responsible ATV usage, she said.
“TOYA has been, I think, really incredible, because they haven’t focused on the negative. Their common beliefs that they just released are really lovely, because it’s all positive language.”
Registering ATVs might be unpopular with some, but its necessary to prevent damage, she said.
“To me, that’s something that we should have moved to years ago, because if an incident happens with an off-road vehicle, there’s no way to identify them except for by what they’re wearing, and that’s not going to hold up.”
The government should be proactive in protecting Yukon’s wilderness, rather than trailing what has already been done in other jurisdictions, said White.
“It appears right now that we’re racing to the bottom.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at