WINNIPEG — Manitoba should ban all-terrain vehicles from ecologically sensitive Crown land, force drivers to pay for environmental damage and seize their wheels if they break the law, recommends an internal government report.
The report, obtained by The Canadian Press, says the number of ATVs has exploded in Manitoba. But a lack of specific laws and enforcement means drivers are carving out their own trails, littering and sparking forest fires on Crown land that have cost at least $4 million.
“ATV use has far more potential for damage to the landscape than … snowmobiling and other recreational vehicle uses,” the report says.
Submitted last May, it outlines a long list of potential problems from ATV use.
“ATVs can cause damage to a landscape, sensitive areas and protected areas due to the erosion, rutting and compacting of soil. ATVs can damage or destroy vegetation, fish habitat, riparian areas, beaches, shorelines, waterways, wildlife habitat, newly reforested areas and forestry plantations.
“They can cause habitat fragmentation and spread noxious weeds. They can cause seasonal disruption in wildlife movements and negatively impact endangered species.”
The government commissioned an internal review last year following several multimillion-dollar forest fires blamed on hot debris from ATV mufflers.
ATV sales are outpacing snowmobiles by a ratio of five to one, the review found. The number of ATVs registered in Manitoba has doubled in the last five years – to 21,000 in 2008 from 11,000 in 2004.
But current legislation isn’t being seriously enforced, the review found.
“As ATV users expand their areas of use, the ability to monitor and enforce legislation and policy has become a greater problem.”
Manitoba Conservation should tweak its current legislation to crack down on irresponsible ATV users, the report recommends.
It also says the province by now should have linked fines and penalties to the cost of rehabilitating damaged areas, as well as amended legislation so off-road vehicles can be seized if the law has been broken.
Over the next three years, the province should examine all Crown land to determine where ATVs should be banned, it says.
Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said that review of Crown land is ongoing, but the government is waiting to establish an ATV association before it moves ahead with any of the other recommendations.
Eric Reder with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee said people don’t realize the province’s wilderness is the envy of any European country. The province has yet to come up with a master plan for its Crown land, let alone done anything to prevent ATVs from ripping up the backcountry, he said.
In other provinces, mountain bikes aren’t even allowed on some trails, Reder said.
“There is an impact. If we don’t start talking now, we are going to lose them.”
Manitoba is believed to be the only province in Canada without an ATV association. Most of Manitoba’s off-road users are responsible people who can be part of the solution, Struthers said.
“You have to be concerned,” he said. “Every Manitoban needs to be aware of the situation.”
Struthers said the province has put new rules in place for ATV derbies – gatherings that were blamed for starting forest fires in the past. Eventually, he said, there will be parts of the province that will be “roped off” for ATV users and others.
But some environmentalists say areas that are currently deemed off-limits aren’t respected by ATV drivers or enforced by authorities.