Talk is cheap on ATV regulation

The Trails Only Yukon Association is cheering an all-party report that endorses regulation of offroad vehicles. Ugly scars mar once-pristine alpine meadows and wetlands thanks to tracks left by these vehicles.

The Trails Only Yukon Association is cheering an all-party report that endorses regulation of offroad vehicles.

Ugly scars mar once-pristine alpine meadows and wetlands thanks to tracks left by these vehicles. It’s encouraging to see politicians of all stripes recognize there’s a problem, said Ken Taylor and Vern Peters, who helped found the association in response to the damage done to Yukon’s hinterland by all-terrain vehicles.

Next step: do something about it. And that may prove more difficult.

“Words alone – it doesn’t matter how good they are – aren’t sufficient,” said Peters.

“The Yukon right now is a lawless land when it comes to ATVs,” said Taylor. “And that needs to be changed.”

The all-party report acknowledges politicians “have a duty to address this issue,” and that “strong arguments had been made for further restrictions on offroad vehicle access to some areas.”

It also recognizes regulating ATVs is a deeply divisive issue in the territory, and any decision is bound to upset some people, which may help explain why no politician to date has stuck out his or her neck on the issue.

Taylor finds this “absolutely unfathomable,” given how several polls have shown most Yukoners support keeping ATVs on existing trails and off sensitive habitat.

Even the Yukon Offroad Riders Association, which sprung up in reaction to Trails Only’s campaign, supports immediately banning the cutting of new ATV trails until new rules are in place.

But the all-party report doesn’t make this recommendation. And it’s vague on what to do next.

MLAs lack the technical expertise to draft clear rules themselves, they note in their report. Trails Only agrees. But they want a committee of experts created to sort out these details soon.

It would include biologists familiar with ATV’s impact on wildlife, as well as business representatives to ensure that new rules don’t unduly hinder mining exploration.

Yukon’s two ATV pressure groups have competing visions of how to best regulate the vehicles. Trails Only wants to keep ATVs on designated trails only. The offroad riders association would prefer to see a simple law that would ban harming the environment.

Another big hole in the report is the absence of any recommendation to require ATVs be licensed and registered. Without a clear way of identifying vehicles, enforcing any new laws will be difficult.

“We put registration numbers on boats,” said Taylor. He sees no reason why this couldn’t be done with ATVs, too.

Critics object Yukon’s too big to effectively regulate ATV use. Taylor counters it’s easy for citizens to snap photos of reckless ATV riders with digital cameras, or report scofflaws with satellite phones.

But he sees no reason to require ATV users to need insurance, unless they’re using their vehicle on roads.

Opponents of ATV regulation often couch their arguments in favour of individual freedom. But you wouldn’t tear up someone’s lawn with an ATV without expecting any consequence, said Peters.

So, he asks, why is this permitted in Yukon’s hinterland?

“That belongs to all of us.”

Others argue that most damage done by ATVs is the result of a “few bad apples,” who are unlikely to follow any new rules. Peters disagrees. He thinks we all need rules, and that most people are happy to follow them.

“That’s why I’m married. My wife keeps checks and balances on me, and I like it.”

Trails Only currently has more than 200 dues-paying members. They should have more soon, after a membership drive planned for this month.

Expect to hear more from Taylor and Peters this year. It’s an election year.

And, even if politicians aren’t willing to raise the subject themselves, Trails Only plans to make the ATV debate into a territorial election issue.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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