January 18th, 2021

Off-road damage a social problem, not environmental

By Lethbridge Herald on November 19, 2015.

Anna Garleff, of the Oldman Watershed Council, speaks about off-road vehicle use and protecting fragile ecosystems during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens

J.W. Schnarr
The issue of off-highway vehicle damage in sensitive natural areas is a social one, not an environmental one, said a representative of the Oldman Watershed Council, Thursday.
Anna Garleff, a communications specialist with the OWC, was one of the speakers at Thursday’s Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs luncheon. She and longtime member of the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society, Becky Cousins, presented “Off Road Vehicles: Recreation or Wreckreation? The Challenges of Protecting Fragile Ecosystems.”
“This is not an environmental problem. If it were an environmental problem, the solution would be clear,” she said. “Close down the headwaters to all motorized access, period. But it’s a social problem. We need to address that at a systemic level. That means making conscious decisions on how we manage the land, and how we manage the water.”
Garleff cited a recent article in The Herald as one of the reasons for the discussion.
“The damage from offroad vehicles can be immense,” she said. “It can be absolutely devastating. It can make it so an ecosystem is irreparably damaged.
“But most OHV?users aren’t doing that level of damage. So what we need to bring together is all of the voices in the watershed, to have a sensible discussion about this, talking about what needs to be done, and in what order.”
“Banning OHVs from everywhere is not going to happen,” she added.
Garleff noted words like headwaters and watershed are becoming part of everyday language for Albertans, something she said is a good sign people are beginning to think more about the importance of preserving watershed areas.
Many user groups in the area have advocated for stronger enforcement when it comes to destructive OHV?use, and some of the loudest calls have come from OHV?user groups themselves who advocate responsible use but face a backlash when irresponsible users damage fragile environments.
“They want the trails kept open, and they want clean, clear water as much as anyone,” said Garleff. She added the areas involved are too large to properly manage using enforcement officers.
“You can send out as much enforcement as you like, and they are always going to be seen as the bad guys. But this is a social problem, so what we need to do is change people’s minds. We have to make them understand the consequences of their behaviour, and help them choose good decisions for everyone, and not just self-centred, impulse-driven activity, that’s harmful to everyone.”
Cousins has been documenting and speaking out about the damage being done to the upper ridge of the Alexander Wilderness Park in north Lethbridge.
“They are driving there illegally, accessing the land illegally, and committing acts of vandalism in order to access the land,” she said. “There are statutes in the city’s bylaws and the parks master plan that supposedly protect parklands from off-road vehicles, and that is not happening.”
She said illegal OHV activity in the area is being perpetrated by users who have a ‘we can do whatever we want’ attitude due to the lack of deterrence.
“It has been going on that they feel they have the right to do whatever,” she said.
“I think the bylaws have to be changed,” she said. “An offroad vehicle driver has to be caught in the act before he can be fined. But that means anyone who happens to be walking in the park and is brave enough to get close enough and get a license number to phone the police, do they have the manpower and resources to go out immediately and arrest this person?
“Do the police even feel it‘s a worthwhile use of their manpower and resources?”

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