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Motorized Recreation on Public Lands

March 31, 2017

Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are “any motorized mode of transportation built for cross-country travel on land, water, snow, ice or marsh or swamp land or on other natural terrain and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes, when specifically designed for such travel” (Government of Alberta 2014). These vehicles can be used for travel on land, water, snow, and ice, and include all terrain vehicles such as quads and “side-by-side” vehicles, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trikes, and highway vehicles being driven off-road.

AWA Position

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) supports the safe and responsible use of motorized recreational vehicles on designated trails in appropriate areas where there is no impact on other recreational users, vegetation, water or wildlife. The environmental damage that is caused by motorized recreation is well documented. Well-designated trails and strict adherence to regulations limiting the use of motorized vehicles are required to minimize damage.

While all Albertans should have access to their public lands on foot, off-highway vehicle (OHV) use needs to be considered a privilege, not a right. AWA supports a “closed unless open” approach to motorized recreation management on public lands, as opposed to “open unless closed.” In the absence of a designated trail network, public lands should default to being off limits to OHVs. Authorized use should be permitted only when the best available science shows that watershed, wildlife, and ecosystem integrity is not compromised by such use.

Additionally, OHV use should be considered and regulated as a formal land use in Alberta. Treating OHVs as a land-use requires their trails to be considered in linear density footprints and future land use planning. To comply with A Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes (1984), a moratorium must be imposed on the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) on existing trails within Prime Protection and Critical Wildlife Zones, as well as a moratorium on further OHV trail development in these Zones.

Permanent closure and decommissioning of all trails and roads must be implemented where critical habitat of threatened or endangered wildlife exists.

OHV use must not be permitted in protected areas.

Decades of neglecting to deal with multiple land abuses has created an urgency for the government to deal with the lack of management on provincial public lands. The following work by the Gavia group estimates that more than 90% of Alberta’s provincial public lands are currently open to a wide variety of uses, including motorized recreation which by its nature is damaging to land and water when unconstrained and unregulated. Without provincial government leadership and willingness of users to accept limits, we will continue to see the decline of important watersheds, wildlife habitat and unique landscapes.

Click here for AWA’s complete position statement on motorized recreation on public lands.

Gavia Group Findings

Federal, provincial and commercial data sources were searched for free, publicly-available geospatial data for Alberta, specifically regarding parks and protected areas, public land use zones, First Nation Reserves, federal military lands, cities and towns. Geospatial analysis was conducted using ESRI’s ArcMap software to determine, where possible given available data sets, the extent of lands available and unavailable to OHV use. OHV use was considered to include off-road summer and winter motorized vehicles. Data was not available on the extent of grazing leases that do not allow OHVs, however, it is likely that most grazing leases are subjected to use by OHVs by at least the grazing leaseholder.

Calculations by the Gavia Group estimate that only approximately 2% of provincial public lands have been explicitly closed to motorized use: Alberta Public Lands Explicitly Closed to OHVs

Approximately 93% of provincial public land is open to multiple uses including motorized recreation, the majority of which is unregulated use: Alberta Public Lands Open to Mutliple Uses, Including OHVs
This potentially excludes, to one degree or another, the majority of Albertan non-motorized users who prefer quiet, untracked settings. Due to the nature of motorized vehicles (OHVs), they are designed to access all terrains, it effectively gives a minority user group (roughly 6% of Albertans, The Praxis Group 2015) control over most of Alberta’s public landscape. Unregulated motorized use causes soil, vegetation, wetland and stream damage.

Table: PDF

We are striving to provide the public with accurate information. Further geospatial data on public lands that are off limits to OHVs are welcome, as are corrections to any errors on the maps or in the derived statistics. Any corrections or further information regarding the production of the maps can be sent to the Gavia Group Inc. at , other questions can be sent to AWA at




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