June 13, 2024


Taste the Home & Environment

Opinion: Funding for motorized vehicle trails an environmental tragedy

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The minister of Forestry, Parks and Tourism rolled up recently on a mud-spitting off-highway vehicle (OHV) to announce an $8-million bribe to the motorized recreation set. It was pure theatre — partly comedy, mostly tragedy.

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It’s a tragedy because to provide tax dollars to build new OHV trails and increase traffic on others flies in the face of biological and ecological realities and panders to a small group of motorized recreational users.

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OHV trails already exceed the ecological threshold to maintain trout populations and several wildlife species by two to eight times, especially throughout the Eastern Slopes. Expanding OHV trails and encouraging even more OHV traffic will put at serious risk much of the biodiversity that attracts tourism, supports hunting and fishing, and is an indicator of responsible resource management. More trails and more use adds to water-quality issues and exacerbates flood risk for downstream communities in concert with other land uses like logging.

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The pronouncements of OHV trail development as boosting the economy, good for tourism, and helping to “protect wild spaces” are a suspension of reality, blatant spin-doctoring to disguise the dark side of the “sport.” The explanations are a far cry from the realm of rational and a long-distance phone call from believable.

If there really is a sincere wish to “protect wild spaces,” it might start with land-use plans that are informed by science and are vetted through an extensive public-engagement process. These plans would consider the additive effects of industry, agriculture, and recreation on the ability of the land to absorb these activities and still provide a quality water supply, maintain fish and wildlife species (including the recovery of ones now designated “at risk”), and ensure a high degree of ecological integrity for future Albertans.

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Those plans would show that we should be spending these handouts on the restoration of the human footprint, not increasing it. In particular, most of the money would be better spent closing many OHV trails and restoring them so they don’t continue to bleed sediment into streams every time it rains.

“Improving” OHV trails, especially with bridges, in the hope that this will correct many of the problems, is worshipping at the temple of wishful thinking. There is no evidence, from the limited amount of previous OHV trail work that these “solutions” actually work. No monitoring has been done to indicate these “fixes” limit erosion, stop users from fording streams rather than using bridges, or deal with the sheer amount of traffic that fragments wildlife habitat and limits wildlife use.

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We have, at our disposal, strong, robust science to guide us on the question of OHV use — where, when, and how much. Unfortunately, this announcement turns its back on the science. It would appear that many in the OHV community are anti-science and this government is anti-planning.

If you say you care about the environment and yet you want more muddy trails to entertain yourselves, this ignores the evidence of harm from too much OHV use. Maybe it signals you never had any values at all and this is simply entirely self-serving.

Any government with a mandate for environmental stewardship that writes a cheque to a small segment of recreational uses in spite of the evidence of existing harm is not working in the broader public interest.

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Consultation goes far beyond discussing expansion of logging with timber companies, coal development with foreign miners, and increasing OHV trails with one user group. A government that makes secretive deals with no transparency, ignores land-use plans, dismisses the science, and avoids public consultation is not a steward of our treasured natural resources. It’s a government that gives out a lot of cheques, but has no sense of balances.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologist, and a former adjunct professor with the University of Calgary.


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