From: Raymond Plourde
Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 10:32 PM
To: nsplc; WC_List
Subject: Bowater gates opening

 

Hi Folks. So, as you know, the government opened up the gates on the former Bowater lands to the public yesterday. Motorized access for ATVs and dirt bikes but also for road-licensed vehicles (cars, trucks, SUVs, mini-vans, etc.) has been granted on most – but not ALL the land. Last week we were all very alarmed when we heard the media reports that ALL the gates on the former Bowater Lands were about to be thrown open to wide-ranging ATV use. We had no advance warning about this and could not believe that this decision was based on a careful review of the input of the Western Crown Lands public consultation process which had only closed six days earlier. It certainly seemed that this was a political decision that pre-empted the results of that public consultation process. In our submission to the Western Crown Land Planning process we did support opening up some of the gates as an interim step and then developing a reasonable plan based on an impact assessment to decide which further roads should be opened to vehicle use – and which ones should not. But it is clear now that our submission (and probably a lot of other people’s) were not adequately considered before this decision was made. A lot of folks were simply chomping at the bit to get in there and ride, go fishing, etc. and so the decision was fast-tracked ahead of a proper review of the results of the Western Crown Lands Planning process.

 

We raised our concerns immediately to government and we specifically identified some key sensitive areas and critical habitat for several rare/endangered species of plants and animals (rare coastal plain flora, core habitat for mainland moose, etc.) that should be off limits to vehicle use. Government officials offered reassurance that their intent was not to recklessly throw open all the gates and that such ecologically sensitive areas would not be opened up to vehicle use. But they also felt they had to respond to the mounting pressure to let people get into and onto the newly acquired Crown Lands in areas where such environmental concerns were lower. They also emphasized that regardless of vehicle type (on-road or off-road) the rules would be made clear that vehicle use would be restricted to the hard-packed logging roads ONLY and that vehicles owners would NOT be allowed to run off them (e.g. into wetlands, through brooks, cutting new trails etc.).  Of course laws, rules and good intentions are only as good as the plan to implement them and we emphasized the need for a stepped-up enforcement effort – on the former Bowater Lands but also on the rest of the landscape as well. 

 

I was at the “celebration” announcement at the forest road gate off Mill Brook Lane in the St. Margaret’s Bay area yesterday. I was very pleased and relived to see the government maps, which showed that the areas of highest ecological concern would be kept vehicle–free (i.e. gates and barriers would be maintained, signs posted, etc.).  You can see the maps for yourself online at: http://novascotia.ca/natr/land/western-land/access.asp. There were a lot of happy ATVers at the event and happy hunter-anglers in their trucks too, but there was also a strong DNR law enforcement presence. Almost all of the ATV riders were members of clubs – either the provincial ATVANS group or their local affiliate, the Safety Minded ATV Association from the St. Margaret’s Bay area. Now I know not all of you will agree with me on this but through my years on the OHV Ministerial Advisory Committee and other public processes and events I have come to know many of the executive members of these organizations and believe that they are the good guys of their sport and are genuinely trying to lead their fellow riders to a higher standard of safety and environmental and social responsibility. Whether we like it or not, recreational ATVing is not going away any time soon and these guys are trying hard to make things better from within their own community. And to their credit, they were out at this event wearing their volunteer Trail Warden vests and preparing to make their first citizen patrols on the opened Bowater lands. It’s something they plan to do on a regular basis going forward – and that’s a good thing. I think government, in the end, did a pretty good job of balancing competing and opposing viewpoints in terms of the mapping of motorized and non-motorized areas. I still wish they had done a more careful and methodical planning process instead of rushing things. But if you attended any of the Western Crown Lands public sessions you know there was a lot of pressure to open those gates. And it’s also only fair to acknowledge that all Nova Scotians paid for – and will continue to pay for through our taxes – the Bowater lands. As such no one group or perspective has rights greater or lesser than any other when it comes to enjoying and using them.  But we all have a responsibility to use them in a respectful manner.  Yes, there will almost certainly be renegades who will abuse their privileges and hopefully they will be dealt with firmly by law enforcement and if it becomes chronic then the gates can and will be closed again. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the end I am cautiously optimistic that with a combination of motorized and non-motorized use areas, some focused law enforcement and the peer-pressure/education from the organized ATV groups, things could work out okay here after all. We’ll certainly keep an eye on things – but let’s give it a chance to work and try to keep an open mind.

 

Ray