This is the second-last in a series of ecology-related articles contributed by students of Selkirk College.
There are some who use their cars just to go from point A to point B on paved roads and that’s it. For others their vehicle is a means to go where others can’t go; just to see how far they can push their four wheels into unknown territory.
With as many forestry and backcountry roads as are available to users in the area, four-wheeling and ATV use has become increasingly popular. With more users there is a higher chance that sensitive habitats are being or will be affected.
As you can imagine, driving off trail tends to have detrimental effects on the environment. The most common is compaction and loss of soils. Compaction makes it difficult for vegetation to re-establish on these trails after they are abandoned. Off-road enthusiasts know how fun it can be to drive through a big mud hole, but the more it’s used the bigger it gets and more soils are lost. If these mud holes are associated with rivers, streams or wetlands, the damage can be even worse. Off road driving can leave “scars” on the landscape that can take years to recover.
A simple breakdown off trail can lead to devastation in an area. For example, you have an engine failure that leaks oil. The oil can enter our stream systems and damage a much larger area than you think as it spreads in the soil.
Creating new roads in town is very complex, involving a lot of money, time, and expertise to engineer a road that will last. Off road trails, on the other hand, take no time at all to create and little planning. Each time someone creates a trail, it provides an opportunity for the next person to create yet another trail. In no time at all, a habitat is fragmented with roads that will eventually fail, all the while, negatively affecting how wildlife will use the area.
Just like wildlife management or fisheries, off-roading can be managed in good ways for both the environment and the users. If the proper steps have been taken to reduce impacts and keep users in designated areas, we can reduce the overall impact.
There are many ways to reduce the impact on the environment and still enjoy off-roading.
The simplest way would be to ensure that you stay on existing trails and roads, minimize stream crossings, and avoid wetlands. As 4x4 enthusiasts, we should all care for the environment that we drive through, making sure we leave behind the smallest footprint possible.
We all need to think beyond just our day of fun when off-roading, it’s inherently destructive and it’s incumbent on us to mitigate the effect we have. Sticking to the already-created trail, keeping our riparian areas intact, and making sure your vehicle is well maintained can all help you reduce the impact on the environment while still enjoying your time.