February 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 7
Detrimental side of OHVs
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Lorne Fitch Photo
Fall 2014, Atlas Road, Racehorse Creek watershed.
Pass Herald Reporter
While the NDP government’s announcement of the five-year phase out of off-highway vehicles in the Castle Wilderness area sparked feelings of grief, betrayal and outrage for OHV groups, environmentalists insist that the move is vital for the protection and, in some cases, salvation, of natural habitats and species native to the area.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologist and an adjunct professor with the University of Calgary. Most of his career was spent in Southern Alberta where he undertook extensive inventories of trout streams and trout populations in the Eastern Slopes, including the Castle, Crowsnest and Oldman watersheds. He also sat on the Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery team and advised the Bull Trout Recovery team.

In his spare time he hikes, backpacks, cross-country skis, hunts, fishes and photographs landscapes and wildlife. He writes extensively about conservation issues in Alberta. Although he lives in Lethbridge, his family has land in the foothills near Beauvais Lake.

Fitch is no stranger to the enjoyment of OHVs, having used them for work purposes and recreationally. But he no longer rides them for fun because of the stark damage to the environment they cause, he says.
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For Fitch, an OHV phase-out is a necessary step to preserve fragile ecosystems in the Castle area.

“Over the last 20 years or so, the number of roads and trails that OHVs use has proliferated to the point that we can’t sustain things like water quality, even water quantity and fish and wildlife populations with the density of trails that are in existence,” he says. “We have to ask and answer the question, what are we willing to give up in terms of water quality, the loss of fish populations, the loss of threatened wildlife populations and the loss of other forms of recreation to support the current levels of vehicle access that is present.”

At a town hall meeting on Feb. 7 at the MDM Community Centre, members of the public were firm in that the great majority of OHV users are responsible riders who use common sense and obey laws and signage. Based on the OHV-related damage that Fitch has seen, however, he says the issue is not simply with “the bad apples” but rather the constant, recurrent OHV traffic in general. He adds that OHV users may have become jaded to just how much damage is caused by the vehicles.

“Off-highway vehicle users may not be aware of the impacts of their recreation, partly because so much damage currently exists that there are few un-impacted areas for comparison. I appreciate that that’s the perspective that the off-highway vehicle community has, but I think there’s a perceptual blindness at play with the OHV community and an inability, maybe even a desire, to not see the impacts of their recreational use,” he says.
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So, can a solution be reached where both sides are happy?

“The quick answer is no,” says Fitch. “It’s not about what makes people happy, it’s about the responsibility and obligation to protect our watersheds, our fish and wildlife populations and ensure that the use by some doesn’t damage the landscape.”

Fitch says that the only way a resolution can be reached is to have less shouting and more healthy dialogue. While he does support restrictions and reductions in the Castle area, he does see room for potential OHV use elsewhere under certain conditions.

“What we need is to create some pilot projects where we can try out some designs that others have come up with, test them out and do a proper job of monitoring things like water quality and the response of fish and wildlife populations to see if we can design OHV trails that meet recreational needs and also don’t contribute to damage,” he says.

What he hopes his images promote is an awareness with which OHV users can develop a sense of responsibility, he says, which is vital in ensuring a future for OHV use as well as watershed protection and the maintenance of fish and wildlife populations.
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February 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 7
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