Group revs up for ATV fight

Vern Peters, a teacher at Jack Hulland Elementary, used to have a special place in the hinterland where he'd take kids on camping trips. But he doesn't think he'll return.

Vern Peters, a teacher at Jack Hulland Elementary, used to have a special place in the hinterland where he’d take kids on camping trips.

But he doesn’t think he’ll return. Last summer, while hiking along the alpine ridge, what he saw turned his stomach.

Black scars marred what was once a pristine meadow. They were ATV tracks.

Places where the vehicles had bogged down had become mud pits. Over the span of the eight years since Peters had last visited the place, his old campsite had been transformed from wilderness to a well-worn trail.

First he felt sick. Then he felt angry. Then, when he later went for a run, Peters started to cry.

He once took his children to this spot. Now they’ve grown up.

He doesn’t think he’ll take his grandchildren. “It’s not special anymore,” he said.

Peters is a founder of the Trails Only Yukon Association. The group is pushing for the territory to regulate ATV use with rules that would keep the vehicles on existing paths and off fragile alpine and wetlands.

Last night, the group held a public meeting at Jack Hulland school that attracted more than 100 Yukoners. Many shared stories similar to Peters’ and expressed support for the organization’s cause.

But not everyone agreed that ATVs should be restricted. Some felt an altitude-based restriction too harsh.

Others worried that legislation wasn’t the solution. They argued the yahoos who carelessly rip up the alpine wouldn’t follow the rules, and there’s too much wilderness in the territory to properly patrol.

Ken Taylor, another founder, disagreed. He said the experiences of other jurisdictions is that education campaigns alone do little.

And Taylor knows of reasonable-minded ATV users who have ventured up into the alpine, scarring the landscape as they did so. They felt a twinge of guilt, but they didn’t stop.

“Lots of folks, if there’s no rules, will do what they want,” said Taylor.

“You won’t catch everybody, but we can do better than what we’re doing.”

Whitehorse already requires ATV users to register and licence their vehicles, noted Bob Downie. Yet this hasn’t done much to curb the damage done by ATVs within city limits.

The real problem, he said, lies with negligent parents who hand the keys of their vehicles to teenagers. “No consequences for the children,” he said.

Downie teaches ATV safety lessons at the Main Street Driving School. He lamented how few people enrol in the class.

Brian Edelman, for one, is wholly against ATV restrictions. “You can’t legislate stupidity,” he said.

Edelman is the owner of Listers Motor Sports. He credits himself as the man who brought four-wheeled ATVs to the territory in 1985.

He complained how little the territory’s population has grown since that time. The culprit, he said, is “way too much legislation.

“We’re welfare bums,” he said. “We don’t pay our own way. People in Alberta subsidize us. Mining companies won’t come.”

He went on to make an unlikely pitch: Whitehorse would be better off if everyone rode ATVs on city streets, he said. It would solve the city’s parking problem and set to rest all concerns the city is becoming like Toronto.

Edelman said he caught a whiff of elitism from those proposing reform. “How many people did you hear tonight who said, ‘I don’t want to see anybody?’” he asked.

Wolf Riedl, a longtime resident of Haines Junction, is no fan of regulations either. But he would prefer to see new laws if it helps protect Kluane’s sheep numbers.

He hunts, and he’s watched with concern as the region’s sheep population has declined over the past three decades. He suspects the proliferation of ATVs is to blame.

Riedl worried that unless ATV use is curbed, hunters will soon have to wait five years for a permit. “We need to ask, what if we don’t do anything?” he said.

Liberal MLAs Don Inverarity and Darius Elias attended the meeting, as did the NDP’s Steve Cardiff, who is pushing for a helmet law for ATVs and snowmobiles.

Conspicuously absent was Environment Minister John Edzerza, who received several invitations.

A committee of MLAs is supposed to tour the territory this summer to discuss whether to restrict ATV and snowmobile use. But the committee hasn’t yet met, and the government still needs to name its chair.

Gary McRobb, the Liberal MLA for Kluane, pilloried the government for these delays Thursday afternoon.

“There are hard decisions to be made, yet instead of showing leadership, this government tosses it to a committee it won’t convene,” McRobb told the legislature. “How convenient.”

Fourteen years ago, Dave Loeks was hired by the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board to study how other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States handled ATV regulations.

He found a variety of approaches, but the consensus, he said, was “don’t wait.”

In British Columbia, consultations on ATV regulations dragged on for eight years.

The Yukon can’t afford to wait that long, said Peters.

“Can you imagine what the Yukon would look like if consultations continued for eight years?” he asked.

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