Burying the facts does not eliminate the truth about off road vehicles on public lands
Guest Article by Brian L. Horejsi
Crimes against the land, crimes against our streams and rivers and wetlands, crimes against clean air, crimes against fish, wildlife and birds, crimes against wild plants, crimes against soil, crimes against quiet and solitude, crimes against peaceful non motorized public lands users; the list goes on and on. All crimes documented by scientific, social and public lands management evidence. That is the legacy of off road vehicles and their users, not just in Alberta, but across North America.
This is one crime spree that most Albertans do not have their heads in the sand about; no fairy tale ostrich impersonations here except in the blinkered self-serving world of off road users. Albertans are fed up with this bunch; all that remains for the people of Alberta to do is clear out a government and the old boys network of land managers that are protecting off roaders. It is probably more accurate to say protecting manufacturers and dealers â€“ the money people – who act as the pushers for the addicts â€“ the gloriously self endowed “enthusiasts” that desecrate public lands. These are the people that are fueling the destruction of the natural and real recreational world.
The core group of off roaders are notorious machine and party idolizing young males best characterized as environmental deadbeats. Most are abysmally poorly informed about the destruction they and their machines impose on the landscape. The majority fancy themselves immune to responsibility, as are the manufacturers and dealers. The latter are the people who provide the money, they hook “the clubs”, who Minister Morton apparently wants to “work with”. These almost private deals take place outside the political and public process, in the backrooms, where the money men curry political favoritism. The fact is Morton, and this government, have no legal, moral, ethical or democratic authority to give off road “clubs” preferential treatment; Morton and Stelmachs moral, legal and scientific responsibility is to implement a high level of protection for all public land, native biological diversity, water, and the collective public interest. That is their one and only obligation.
Thereâ€™s something offensive about the defense employed by off roaders when they take the position that “it must be OK because I do it”. Its analogous to a child locking itself in the closet to escape reality. It resembles a deck thatâ€™s short 51 cards. The reality is, it is NOT OK; off road vehicles on public land are never OK.
There is a carefully and monotonously cultivated misconception by off roader spokespersons that its only the bad guys that cause the conflicts, the disruption and the damage. Dead wrong. The fact is that there is no acceptable form of off road motorized use of public lands. It matters not whether its “the bad bunch” or those who consider themselves immune to criticism. Any off road vehicle on public land brings unacceptable impacts; No government can justify crimes that lead to land destruction and the destruction of
true, solitude based non motorized recreational experiences; no government has the moral or legal right to sacrifice public resources and the majority of public land users for mindless, obnoxious destructive activities fraudulently labeled as outdoor recreation.
I have sat high on the top of a hard gained ridge in Albertas foothills and been forced to endure the incessant whine, drone and buzz of off road vehicles obliterating the entire drainage, stealing from me solitude, any sense of time and place, the sound of wind and bird, the value and reward of something hard earned, destroying the very essence of what the outdoors means to the mind and spirit of humans. I have watched as adults and children, the latter on down-sized off road vehicles, ravaged the gravel bars, banks and fish habitat of a clear, gently flowing fresh river, engaged in the mindless churning up of fine particles and gouging the river floor; Could this be the deceptively touted family outing to teach children respect for of the outdoors and its wild inhabitants? As A wildlife scientist, I am alarmed by the indifference, the ignorance, and the arrogance of off roaders whose activities and mere presence alarm and often terrify deer, elk, bears and all other forms of wildlife, leading in some cases to death, to reduced reproduction, to injury and separation of young and adults, to extra energy costs, to flight and displacement from preferred habitat and to reduced energy intake and lower body weights, almost all of which are unseen to casual observers. Off roaders, of course, are not there to watch wildlife and they never see those animals that fled in advance of their appearance.
Thereâ€™s also something offensive, and deeply disturbing, about government agents, whether they be conservation, forest or police officers, who treat off road crimes as though they were “folksy” offenses. There are too many cases in history where intimidation of the law, democracy, and the public breeds anarchy. Mob rule is a threat to any honest decent society hoping to achieve some level of democracy, and only full democracy will protect public processes and public assets like out Public land. Destroying the ecological integrity of streams and fish habitat, terrorizing wild animals, shredding vegetation, polluting the air, offending non motorized peaceful users of public land, mocking the public, intimidating law enforcement, and belittling scientifically and ecologically sound land conservation are not “folksy”. What they are is lawless and those who trivialize these activities, particularly those in the presumed role of authority, are betraying the public.
In a land that is unfortunately renowned for private control of resources, it is a paradox that virtually no private land owner will tolerate off roaders “enthusiasts” on his or her land. Its interesting that these people are not prepared to tolerate the destruction and abuse that off roaders bring; apparently they can see the emperor has no clothes. Are Ted Morton and this government willfully blind to the onslaught?
In the last twenty years the Alberta government and government agents in what is now deceptively labeled Sustainable Resource Management have abandoned the protection of public lands and the will and vision of the people of Alberta and sunk into an unholy alliance with motorized industrialization of public land. The engage in fraudulent attempts at reform, as in the shape of “workbooks” designed to contain and restrict public input, as is the case in the ongoing round of land use “plans”; dare not go to full legislated public hearings because democracy might break loose. No small wonder this government and the premiers public support are in the gutter, or should I say mud bog. It is long past time that Albertans seize control of our land and reclaim our democracy; A critical and significant step toward that end is to provide all public lands total protection from all forms of motorized destruction at all times, in perpetuity.