Off-road vehicle users who rip through delicate ecosystems
could find themselves $100,000 poorer and sitting in a jail cell.
The Forest and Range Practices Act was recently amended to
deter people who use off-road vehicles — ATVs, snowmobiles, off-road
motorbikes or four-wheel trucks — from harming Crown land.
Bill Bennett, MLA for East Kootenay and Chair of the B.C.
Outdoor Caucus, has been working with a group of off-road vehicle users to
change the legislation since he was elected in 2001.
“Essentially what the legislation and the new regulation does
is it provides authority for government to penalize people who are damaging the
environment through recreation,” said Bennett.
Before, legislation applied only to industrial activity, not
Grasslands and alpine and riparian areas are fragile
ecosystems, and damage can often be irreparable.
“Areas like the alpine, when you get up above the treeline and
you damage an alpine terrain, it essentially never comes back,” said Bennett.
Bennett is quick to point out that he enjoys many of these
activities himself, and is aware that not all off-road vehicle users cause
damage to the environment.
“I’m not somebody that dislikes snowmobiles or ATVS or anything
— I actually use them myself — but there’s a minority of people who
use them irresponsibly.”
And it’s not only a big issue in the Kootenays. Bennett said he
has “no doubt” that damage has been done in the Sea to Sky area.
“…Where you’ve got motorized access up into the alpine in the
Sea to Sky corridor, you’re going to have some people — not many
hopefully… who take their ATVs up into the alpine and they do damage.”
In fact, Bennett said the Sea to Sky corridor is the only other
region in the province that has tried to deal with access issues for motorized
recreation through a land-use planning process.
Christine Nijman, general manager of Barely Legal Motorsports,
thinks the new legislation is great, and was quick to point out it won’t affect
their company, because their tours are on trails and away from sensitive areas.
“We don’t go off the road, and as a matter of fact, we built
our vehicles to be very light so they leave a very low footprint out there,”
She thinks that people who do cause damage off-roading should
have to pay.
“We are all about protecting the environment and showing people
what it is we’re trying to protect,” said Nijman.
Bennett believes education is the key to preventing damage to
these sensitive areas.
Brochures will be distributed throughout riding communities in
the province, and Bennett said they also plan to visit service clubs to spread
the word about the new rules.
People who are caught breaking the new rules will pay a hefty
price. They could face criminal charges through the RCMP and serve up to a year
in jail, pay a civil fine of up to $100,000, or both.
But enforcing the new rules could be tricky, because people
often ride in isolated areas without supervision or patrols.
However, Bennett said officers from the Ministries of Forest,
Environment and Tourism will be involved in ensuring riders respect the new
rules, and in the fall, additional legislation will be changed, giving RCMP the
authority to write tickets, as well.
Bennett also hopes that members of ATV clubs will use peer
pressure to encourage their fellow riders to abide by new rules.
“All we’re asking is that people recreate, have fun, but stay on the trails and the roads and stay out of these sensitive areas.”