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Public Land Use Takes Centre Stage


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Last week a very popular radio show in Edmonton had a discussion over three days on the deterioration of our multi-use public lands. It was an absolutely fascinating discussion that brought in voices from a variety of perspectives. Cumulatively it is a very long listen (about 100 minutes) but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this topic.
Part 1 - Interview with Stan Radke, a horseback outfitter based SW of Red Deer. Stan is becoming very concerned with the state of multi use trails in the east slopes and has been writing the government consistently to address the issue. https://omny.fm/shows/ryan-jespersen-show/feb-1-jespersen-11-00am-quadding-and-horse-trails
Part 3 - An interview with former Banff National Park Warden and esteemed conservationist Kevin Van Tighem. https://omny.fm/shows/ryan-jespersen-show/feb-2-jespersen-10-00-am-fixing-albertas-park-trai
Part 4 - Interviews with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, The Honourable Shannon Phillips (Minister of Parks and Environment) and the Snow and Mud Forum (OHV group). https://omny.fm/shows/ryan-jespersen-show/feb-3-jespersen-10-00-am-protecting-albertas-natur
I have a few takeaways and a few follow up ideas from the content in these interviews. I am really encouraged by the amount of airtime this topic has received and I am also encouraged that nearly everyone seems to be on the same page (or at least that is what they are saying). The current dynamic in our eastern slopes cannot continue - we absolutely have to do better.
We need a new public land framework for these areas. We need to encourage responsible recreation use while demonstrating good stewardship of the land. That good stewardship can't just be lip service, it has to have the appropriate outcomes. What we need at this stage is some triage. First we need to stop the bleeding, second we need to evaluate the problem and third we need to apply treatment.
Here's my vision for what a new framework could look like:
1) OHV use in sensitive riparian habitats needs to be closed. We need to allow the land to heal. I understand this is a difficult one for the OHV community to come to terms with it, but the science suggests it is absolutely necessary. There needs to be an understanding that many of the trails OHVs have been using for the last number of decades are not appropriate. This could mean closures of entire trails or detours/spot closures of specific areas on trails.
2) Creation of an OHV public land licence. This is the idea that Stan talked about in the first interview. The program would need to have full cost recovery - after admin costs, 50% would go towards trail rehab/construction/recovery and 50% would go towards more enforcement. Looking at the regulations facing most other public land recreation opportunities, I think this is entirely reasonable especially if we ear-mark funds back into the resource. The revenues ear-marked for trail rehab/construction/recovery must be put into a specific fund that would only be dedicated for trails.
3) Increase our enforcement capacity SIGNIFICANTLY. We need enforcement on trails and in our most sensitive areas. We can pay for this through the OHV licence, but I would also suggest it is time for a significant increase in the cost of a fishing licence. The increased costs would be entirely diverted into enforcement funds.
4) Penalties for public land use infractions need to be ramped up. The fines need to be greater and we need to have less tolerance for repeat offenders. Repeat offenders should have their vehicles seized. The legislation needs to be strong enough that a judge won't overturn a seizure where deemed appropriate. The penalties need to reflect the incredible cost of the damage being committed.
5) Creation of specific OHV use areas. I do not believe that mixed use trails work. Areas with active OHV use are not friendly places for other users. Hikers don't want to share the space, mountain bikers get pushed off the trails and horses are easily startled by OHVs. It's time to segregate these uses. We also need to segment OHV users into two groups - trail riders and high performance riders. I believe the high performance riders are the ones causing a lot of the damage (mud bogging, ripping through creeks, etc). We should create a network of world class touring trails that stay clear of swamps, bogs and streams while still offering scenic views and challenging trails. We should also create designated "go fer a rip" areas complete with jumps, artificial mud bogs, etc. If some folks absolutely insist on using their machines this way, let's give them a controlled environment to do it.
6) Transfer operations of trails to OHV associations. This is a common practice with a lot of snow mobile trails. An association would control and maintain a trailhead. Anyone accessing that trail needs to be a member of the association and pay to use the infrastructure. The association would control access but also maintain a level of stewardship over the resource. The trails would need to be periodically inspected to ensure compliance. This ensures that the continued maintenance of these trails is not on the backs of taxpayers and gives a sense of ownership for these associations.
7) Alberta needs progressive 21st century fishing regulations. The "one-size fits all" approach isn't working. Over-fishing is having a significant impact on our fisheries. We should be considering tags (rod-days), classified waters and seasonal closures similar to what we see in BC. There should also be specific permanent closures for areas that are noted high volume spawning and rearing habitat. This is already done on some specific areas on the Elbow and Sheep, but could certainly be expanded.
Anyways, apologies for the long rant on this. I'm really interested in hearing your ideas on this. I think the winds of change are blowing right now. This topic is getting the right amount attention and I get the sense there is consensus from all user groups that something needs to be done. We may not agree on exactly what needs to be done, but I think we all appreciate that what we are doing now isn't working.

 

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I usually stay on the sidelines on topics like this, while I have no disagreements with the initial topic/ and the "vision-framework" outlined, I feel strongly that we must have 3 more things.

1- Enforcement people

2- Enforcement legislative changes e.g. New/improved laws

3- Enforcement non political partisanship or self serving agencies that grow exponentially without producing results

 

Ideally we would have adequate funding for a responsible F&W from our Provincial Govt, without the constant intrusion of politicians. E.g a. Independent agency, still funded provincially, such that the folks there could have adequate resources, human and otherwise, proper legislative authority, enhanced as required to facilitate their responsibility etc. With an non-political oversight process/structure to ensure annual budgets are properly focussed and "at the right level" e.g. Not too big, not too small, highly focused etc.

There is no rocket science involved here, but since it may at best be a dream, at my age I'm giving myself permission to dream on....

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