By Edmonton and Area Land Trust
Sept. 26, 2018.
As leaves turn to their fall colours and crops are being removed from the fields, it’s a great time of year for those who love to ride through the countryside on their quad or other Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV). And snowmobilers are itching for the right amount of snow for their chance to head out, too.
With the weather constantly changing, and with limited areas to go, it is highly tempting to ride into special areas, where environmental protection is the prime mandate, and OHVs are not allowed. Regardless of vehicle choice, a quad, snowmobile, other OHV or even mountain bike, it is essential to know where you can and cannot ride.
Trespassing on natural areas occurs frequently on Edmonton and Area Land Trust (EALT) lands, despite clearly marked signs stating OHVs are not allowed. Such riders tend to come in from neighbouring trails and drive right past the signed rules, in other words, they feel they are above the law.
EALT does not make up rules to ruin your fun; in fact, many local municipalities have similar rules. Leduc County, for example, does not allow OHVs to ride in Environmental Reserves, which is the official designation of EALT’s Coates Conservation Lands. It is also illegal throughout the Province, to cross a waterbody except at a developed crossing. So why should you care? There are many reasons why you should not drive OHVs in natural areas.
1) Protect drinking water
Like the Coates Conservation Lands, many other natural areas owned by EALT or by the municipality or province, contain sensitive riparian habitat, which includes transition zones between water and land. Riparian areas acts as enormous water filters, cleaning runoff from the land. Willow Creek, and many other small creeks, flow into the North Saskatchewan River, and provide drinking water to well over a million people in the greater Edmonton region. Staying out of riparian areas on your OHV helps protect our drinking water.
2) Protect fish habitat
Many fish species, some of which are popular for fishing, spawn in shallow tributaries of the North Saskatchewan, like Willow Creek. Riding an OHV in a riparian area damages fish spawning habitat, as well as their eggs. Not only does this reduce the number of fish for sport, but also disrupts food cycles for other wildlife, such as herons and other large birds that eat fish.
3) Prevent erosion
Keeping OHVs off EALT lands (and government natural areas) will help prevent erosion. Deep ruts scar steep slopes, leaving soil exposed and increasing the erosion, as rain and spring runoff wash the soil down into the creek. Soil erosion increases sedimentation in the water, making it more difficult for fish and other wildlife to survive in otherwise peaceful waters.
4) Prevent weed establishment
Riding in natural areas, especially riparian areas, allows weeds to spread. Seeds may cling to OHV tires or sides, and then spread to the next area that is visited. Weeds are particularly difficult to remove in riparian areas, and are also one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss across the world. Weeds can also be costly for crops, too.
5) Reduce risk of wildfires
While fall usually isn’t a high-risk season for fires, the increasing number of wildfires in Alberta is another reason to be careful when riding your OHVs. The heat of OHVs can ignite dry debris that is caught in the machine or even on the ground. This debris can start a fire which would significantly reduce the area’s environmental value.
Throughout Alberta, there are riding trails designated for OHV use. Be sure to plan your trip ahead of time, determine where you can ride responsibly, follow all safety rules, and be respectful and ask permission if going on private land.
There are many myths about where one can ride OHVs. EALT’s leaflet about the law and regulations related to OHVs clarifies these, and likely provides an eye-opener for many oblivious riders!
EALT Conservation Lands are open to the public to enjoy on foot.
By Edmonton and Area Land Trust