FORT MACLEOD, Alberta. — Protecting headwaters is high on the priority list for the Oldman Watershed Council, a non-profit group designed to maintain and improve the Oldman River and its environs.
Adam Driedzic, staff lawyer with the Environmental Law Centre, fears cumulative effects of all-terrain vehicles and other off-highway vehicles might damage those headwater areas vital to water supplies downstream.
Speaking at an OWC landowners summit earlier this month, Driedzic said it might take a combination of education and enforcement to better regulate off-road vehicle users and better protect the river’s upper reaches.
“This is a real cumulative effect issue,” said Driedzic.
“There are a lot of quadders on the landscape, and it’s not very regulated. I think this is an issue of the future. People have been talking about oil and gas and forestry for so long that they don’t realize that public land use has an impact, too.”
Part of the appeal for ATV users is the connection with wild areas and the ability to access public lands from multiple points. The large area and access involved makes enforcement a challenge, Driedzic said.
“OHVs (off-highway vehicles) are marketed as something you can use to go anywhere and make your own trail. That’s the whole myth of the wilderness. People don’t realize this is not pristine wilderness. It’s an impacted landscape and the impact gets worse the more people go off trail.”
Brent Hodgson, president of the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association, said his group has advocated for a trail system for10 years.
He agreed that recreational use has an effect on public lands, including headwater areas, but so do other uses.
“Everybody’s got a footprint in the landscape,” he said.
The group’s mission and principles include respect for the environment, sharing of trails and the belief that motorized recreation is a legitimate use of public land.
Driedzic said roads created by forestry, pipelines and transmission lines create trails for off-roaders that can last far longer than the entities they were originally built to serve.
He thinks a combination of education and enforcement will be needed in the future to protect sensitive areas.
Under the province’s new pubic land administration regulation, which came into effect last September, parts of public areas can be closed or permits required from recreational users, he said.
However, enforcement remains “highly discretionary,” he added.
Restrictions could also be applied through a requirement for a licence or permit to use an off-road vehicle on public lands, similar to that required for national park access.