Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen rode ATVs through the Carcross Desert on Tuesday – straight into a media frenzy.
Vern Peters, a founder of the Trails Only Yukon Association, hadn’t heard about the prime minister’s widely-publicized photo-op until a reporter from a national newspaper called him, he said.
The debate about Yukon’s ATV regulations has now travelled well outside of the territory, with the Huffington Post and the National Post both reporting on the incident.
The prime minister’s handlers should have known better than to take him to an ecologically fragile place, said Peters. He was surprised by the whole situation, he said.
“I have no problem with Mr. Harper and his wife riding ATVs,” Peters said. His concerns are about the lack of rules about where ATVs can go in the Yukon, he said.
The territory is the last jurisdiction in Canada to regulate where off-road vehicles can operate, said Christina Macdonald, wildlife co-ordinator with the Yukon Conservation Society.
The Carcross Desert can withstand a certain amount of disturbance, said Macdonald. But not the disturbance of an ATV.
Certain species of grass there are only found in a few other places in the Yukon and in Russia, and rare flies and moths are found in the desert’s dunes, she said.
Riders and drivers from other places can come up here and do things they can’t back home, said Peters. Irresponsible drivers give everyone a bad name.
Both residents and tourists are affected by the environmental damages. The wilderness that once brought Peters to the territory “doesn’t look very pristine anymore,” he said.
People have been speaking out about the need for off-road vehicle regulations for 25 years, he said. Yukoners want something to happen, but there “doesn’t seem to be any will to act on the problem,” he said.
ATV rides have become part of Harper’s annual trips to the North, it seems. In 2010, he sped off on one on the runway at the Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. airport. When asked about the incident, he told the CBC, “I think I make the rules.”