“People already presume an open field is theirs for the taking.”
– LAC DU BONNET FARMER CINDY KELLENDONK
Farmers worry new rules that prevent all-terrain vehicles from roaming provincial parks and require permits for derbies on Crown land will push more renegade off-roaders into their fields.
The restrictions, announced by Manitoba Conservation earlier this month, aim to curb wildfires and environmental damage being caused to forested areas and wetlands by ATVs.
Fires can start when debris becomes lodged near the engine and exhaust pipes of ATVs, then ignites from the heat and falls off.
But farmers like Cindy Kellendonk near Lac du Bonnet say she fears those rules will push more trespassers onto farmers’ fields. And they’re causing enough headaches already. “People already presume an open field is theirs for the taking.”
A useful tool for farmers, irresponsible drivers of ATVs have become both a source of aggravation and potential liability to farmers like the Kellendonks, who annually experience damaged fields and pastures from trespassing joyriders.
This past spring, they experienced overland flooding from ruts these vehicles left behind, cutting off all their natural drainage. ATVers have also damaged standing crops. “Last year we had ATVs run rampant through our canola field,” she said.
What used to be a winter problem with snowmobilers who didn’t respect private property has turned into a year-round “unmitigated nightmare,” with these machines, says Kellendonk.
“Both are extremely destructive, but the ATVs are the biggest threat to producers,” she said. Moreover, she doesn’t think this is “just a few bad apples’’ causing the problem either. “It is bushels and bushels of bad apples.”
She’s not the only fed-up farmer.
ATVers trespassing used to be mainly a regional complaint, but it’s becoming a common problem as these machines proliferate, said Keystone Agr icultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart. Farmers’ complaints aren’t just about these machines being a nuisance either.
“There’s some financial damage, without a doubt,” Wishart said. He recently sent letters to newspaper editors detailing the problems farmers experience, urging drivers to stay off private property.
Farmers report finding strips in their fields where crops haven’t come up, the result of tracking and rutting from vehicles tires, Wishart said. There are reports of cut fences, and gates left open on pasture land, which has put farmers up in arms about the liability that exposes them to.
These vehicles also track in noxious weed seeds, as well as soil and plant diseases, costing farmers time and money to eradicate.
Lacking anyone to communicate with, such as a club or association representing these people, it’s been a cause for increasing conflict between landowners and ATVers, Wishart said.
ATV sales have exploded in Manitoba in recent years. The number registered in this province has doubled in the past five years, from 11,000 in 2004 to 21,000 in 2008.
Lorette-area farmers Nancy and Leigh Cullen’s encounters with trespassers
started in that very time period. The
problem has become so pervasive, it prompted Nancy to also send around
letters to local papers, detailing the problems associated with this “new reality” of the constant travel of ATVs across farm-and cropland.
“Quads make circles of ruts on our farm crop and hayland and they continue for about three-kilometre widths of our property,” she said in an interview. No Trespassing signage is ignored. Dirt bikes and quads race on a roadway near their home at all days of the week. “They seem to feel an entitlement to use farmland (private property) and public roads as their playground,” she wrote in her letters.
Nancy says owners of these vehicles should be educated, tested and licensed, similar to boat owners.
ROAD RULES DISREGARDED
Farmers aren’t the only ones complaining, according to St. Pierre-Jolys Staff Sergeant Ron Poirier.
RCMP hear from townsfolk too. Their complaints range from ATVers riding on sidewalks, to ignoring stop signs, to driving across private property and generally ignoring the rules of the road. Often it’s kids driving these machines. “They’re not old enough to drive a car but they’re driving an ATV down Main Street,” he said.
It’s the disregard for the law that prompts the complaints, Poirier said.
But the public can’t expect stepped-up enforcement to fix this problem either, he stresses. There are far too many ATV riders around. Police could not possiblly chase down everyone contravening the law, he said. “This is a parenting issue and a community issue,” he said. “We need to have an education aspect to this and I think that needs to come from the provincial level.”
Selkirk-area farmer Doug Chorney, agrees that education makes a difference. “I’ve done some public education on my own,” he said. “And I
think it’s had some effect. I think they don’t realize, for the most part that they’re causing damage to farmers’ land. Once they know that, they’re better equipped to make decisions.”
Chorney lives in St. Clements, which earlier this year enacted a bylaw giving the RCMP authority to enforce ATV riding only on the riders’ own property, and requiring written permission if found riding on other people’s land.
The president of this province’s newly formed All-Terrain Vehicle of Manitoba Inc., an association to represent the ATV community, agrees there’s a big need to educate these drivers, and to open lines of communication between ATVers and the public.
ATV Manitoba organized this past February to start dealing with these very kinds of issues, said Chris Fox-Decent. “We’re trying to give the ATV community some direction and leadership and some education,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything so far in the province.”
Despite its reputation as “quad heaven” and the growing popularity of ATVing, Manitoba has had no association representing ATV users.
“We’re talking now about thousands of people using them to go for recreational rides,” Fox-Decent said.
Well aware of the trespassing problem, he agrees the province’s recently announced restrictions only control where the big events are being held, and don’t address issues with individual operators. Better education of the drivers of these vehicles, which ATV Manitoba aims to do, will help, he said.
“Educating them as to the damage they’re causing when they’re driving over crops needs to be part of it, but the fact that they’re trespassing on private land is the problem,” he said.
ATV Manitoba is also embarking on a project with Manitoba Conservation to develop a provincial trail system, he added. “The creative solution is to provide them a place to operate. That will be in everybody’s interest.
“Everyone’s got to realize everyone has to coexist,” he added. “We have to come to some sort of reasonable solution.”
All-Terrain Vehicle of Manitoba Inc. will be launching a website in a couple of months.