A new organization wants all-terrain vehicles banned from Yukon’s fragile alpine areas and wetlands.
The Trails Only Yukon Association quietly formed over the winter and has, so far, signed up more than 100 supporters. The group is holding a public meeting at Jack Hulland school on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to shore up support for their cause.
Many of its members own ATVs. That makes them no less horrified by the deep ruts they’ve seen torn into otherwise pristine wilderness by motorized vehicles.
The association is pushing for regulations requiring ATVs to stick to existing paths while travelling across fragile terrain.
This proposal will be unpopular with some hunters and recreational ATV users, said Ken Taylor, one of the group’s founders. That’s precisely why successive territorial governments have ducked the issue, he said.
But waiting will only ensure more of Yukon’s hinterland will be spoiled.
“The longer we wait, the longer we’ll be saying we should have done something,” Taylor said.
“I have two ATVs myself, so I don’t want to see ATVs restricted in an inappropriate way. There are many hundreds of kilometres of Cat roads in the territory to go on that won’t cause any damage.”
He’s familiar with many of the popular objections against ATV restrictions. He’s convinced they’re wrong.
One is that Yukon is a special place where residents shouldn’t be hampered by the kind of government restrictions found Outside.
“Yukon is different from other places. And we want to keep it that way,” he countered. “We don’t want the Yukon to look like a crisscross trail of destruction and damage like in parts of Alberta and other places.
“There are whole sections of Alberta you can’t go at all because there is so much ATV damage. We want to stop here, before we get to that point. We don’t want whole sections of the Yukon eliminated from usage.
“With a few commonsense rules, we think people will still be able to access the country with ATVs, get deeper into the forest with their ATVs, but without doing damage.”
Another objection is the damage is only caused by a couple bad apples. Why let them spoil everyone else’s fun? This argument usually ends with a proposal to educate residents, rather than restrict them with hard rules.
But other jurisdictions have learned the hard way that education campaigns alone won’t prevent ATVs from scarring the backcountry, said Taylor.
“They try that for a while, spend a lot of money on pamphlets and things, and then realize it’s had very little impact at all. There’s still a problem.
“Then they proceed to do the thing they wish they had done before, five or 10 or 15 years later, and that’s to put some rules in place.
“It’s really no different than a classroom. If you just say, when you walk in at the start of the year, ‘We’re not going to have any rules here, but gosh, we hope you behave yourself,’ that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Taylor speaks from experience. He’s the principal of Jack Hulland Elementary.
“If you just say, here are a few simple rules … it makes a world of a difference.”
Taylor recalls talking to one ATV enthusiast who had recently moved to the territory from British Columbia, where their use is regulated.
He had ridden up Pilot Mountain and, having reached the treeline, realized, “I should stop here,” said Taylor.
Then he remembered no rules existed in the Yukon. So he kept going.
“We want to put some simple rules in place so folks know what you’re supposed to do,” said Taylor.
A third objection is that proper enforcement of ATV restrictions would be too difficult, given the size of Yukon’s backcountry and the small number of conservation officers.
This is a challenge, Vern Peters, another TOYA founder, concedes. But it’s not insurmountable.
Nova Scotia needed to boost the budget of conservation officers after it introduced ATV restrictions, he said. But concerned citizens can play a big part, too.
The first step is for the territory to ensure all ATVs are registered and carry plates. Then, if a vehicle is spotted by someone where it shouldn’t be, “all you need to do is take a picture and a GPS marking, and you’ve got your evidence,” said Peters.
“It’s not quite as hard as people think it is.”
Regulation proponents aren’t just worried about the fragile alpine vegetation, which may take generations to regrow once torn-up by ATV tracks. They’re also worried about sheep and other wildlife that are increasingly disturbed by roving ATV users.
Each time sheep become spooked by vehicles they use up energy that would otherwise go towards reproduction. Each disturbance adds up, says Manfred Hoefs, a retired territorial biologist who has studied the declining sheep population on Pilot Mountain.
Last May, Hoefs and members of the Lake Laberge Renewable Resources Council called on the Environment Department to restrict ATV use on Pilot Mountain. But Elaine Taylor, then Yukon’s Environment minister, turned down the request.
Wildlife regulations are the wrong instrument to regulate ATVs, she said, because they would ban hunters from using the machines but allow recreational users to use them with impunity.
This summer, the territory will hold consultations on how to regulate snowmobiles and ATVs at the urging of the NDP’s Steve Cardiff, who is pushing for a territorial helmet law.
Ken Taylor knows restricting ATVs is politically divisive. But most Yukoners are on his side, he said, citing a survey conducted by the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board last year. Eighty-eight per cent of the 163 people who responded agreed ATVs should be restricted from the alpine to protect habitat.
“I know the vast majority of Yukoners would agree to certain things,” said Taylor. “They’d agree that all-terrain vehicles really don’t belong at 6,500 feet, tearing up the fragile alpine. And they don’t belong bogged down in fragile wetland areas as well.”
The group has invited Environment Minister John Edzerza to attend tomorrow’s meeting. So far, there’s no indication as to whether he will show.
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