With spring, fields and land in rural areas are a wonderful mix of mud and green, and that can look very inviting to all-terrain vehicle riders and those with 4×4 vehicles. There are many people who drive responsibly and stay on designated trails and off of private property. And then there are others who choose to trespass.
As producers, we’d like those chosen few to know that when they trespass on private property, they may be destroying someone’s livelihood.
Tracks from all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other vehicles can mean big losses for farmers – wiping out crops, destroying livestock, and threatening the food supply. And when you make tracks on someone’s property they become an invitation for others to follow, furthering the damage. Environmental damage and biohazards caused by these vehicles are major threats to farmland, and there are many examples of how a cycle of destruction can begin.
Some of those threats include infestations of weeds or diseases in soil and crops, spreading diseases to livestock, and erosion to farmland. The other risk producers are exposed to when uninvited guests come onto their land is personal liability if there is an accident.
When seeds from weeds or diseased plants get lodged in an ATV’s tires, those materials can fall off in crops and start infestations. The spread of noxious weeds is a real threat. With some weeds, a single seed or plant can cause hundreds of new plants to grow, creating unnecessary environmental damage and economic losses. When diseased plants come into contact with crops, they can spread fungus and spores which create a wave of disease over a crop. Farmers may have to spend thousands of dollars for chemicals in order to clear their land of damaging seeds or plants.
Animals can also be adversely affected by the tracks left by off-road vehicles. If tires are caked with contaminated soil or manure from riding in one area, diseases can be spread to livestock. Livestock can also be affected if they eat poisonous weeds spread by ATVs. When they are exposed to the excessive noise these machines make, this can be harmful. Grazing land can also be destroyed by tracks and trails that riders create.
Significant damage can occur when riders create ruts in the soil, as this changes the land, sometimes preventing proper drainage from occurring. Excess water can cause damage to crops and make land unworkable. Soil erosion can also cause dangerous conditions for livestock in pastures and farm equipment can be damaged when it travels over ruts.
ATVs also have the potential to spark wildfires. In 2008, a massive fire caused by an ATV claimed more than 3,400 hectares of land in southeastern Manitoba.
Instead of trespassing, ATV riders and others should consider the financial investment and livelihood of farmers and keep off of their private property. Don’t take a hayfield or crop for granted, stay on designated trails, stay off of wildlife habitats and erodible land. If riders want to ride across an area of land, the first thing they should do is ask the property owner for permission. It’s the right thing to do.
Ian Wishart is president of Keystone Agricultural Producers