Rousing the Rabble: Destroying Ecosystems

Extreme access destroys delicate ecosystems, maintains columnist Roy Ronaghan.

A letter to the editor by Barry Brandow, published April 23 on an online news page, makes the point that access to the grasslands area for “recreational” vehicles is literally destroying habitat for the species that make it their home and further endangering those that are on the brink of extinction.

Brandow—a long-time resident of the area probably knows more about the grasslands than any other person in the region—is troubled by what has taken place on the sunny, grassy slopes over four decades. He has good reason to ask why such extensive access is permitted by the very government ministries that are responsible for managing the area.

A drive to the Overton watershed or into the Morrissey Creek watershed proves Brandow’s point. New trails are being created on steep slopes and existing trails have been highly eroded and resemble stream beds.

By Brandow’s estimates, there are at least 80 kilometres of passable service roads forming a network on the slopes and around the tree-covered areas. They were created by forest companies and were never decommissioned. Some are dead ends.

Do the residents of Boundary Country appreciate the uniqueness of the Gilpin area?

Why are the access roads in and around the grassland so highly used? Does riding a fossil fuel burning, noisy machine over a well-worn forest service road or an old railway bed put the operator in touch with nature? Is that not the purpose of being outdoors on a machine?

Operators of all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and mountain bikers will argue that they enjoy travelling the network of roads in the area for the challenge they provide and the views from high points. Is that all?

Aren’t motorized vehicle activities more an expression of human dominance over nature rather than having an experience in it? Vehicle manufacturers bombard television audiences with ads to make that point. A recent Jeep ad makes the point that the vehicle will go anywhere.

Will a ride on a machine of some sort on a trail accompanied by other machines alleviate what Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder” (NDD), a malady suffered by most 21st century urban dwellers? It’s doubtful that it would.

Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, coined the term NDD to describe the growing gap between children and Nature. He admits that adults have the same disconnection from nature.

“Every day, our relationship with nature or lack of it, influences our lives. This has always been true. But in the twenty-first century, our survival—or thrival—will require a transformative framework for that relationship, a reunion of humans with the rest of nature.”

Louv describes a future shaped by “the Nature Principle, an amalgam of converging theories and trends as well as a reconciliation with old truths. This principle holds that a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit and survival.”

The answer to the question at the opening of this essay is no. How could it be otherwise? Isn’t the operator’s attention fully devoted to driving the machine and away from where the road runs? Don’t ATV operators run their machines off the well-travelled trails for the thrill of running where few machines have gone before? The damage they may cause is not a concern.

Motorcycle riders who make the circle route from Nelson to Kaslo and then to Nakusp, New Denver and south through the Slocan valley say they enjoy the route and the thrill they get from riding it. Seldom do they mention the natural setting.

ATV operators would do well to include a trip into a natural setting on occasion for their own health but not on a machine. Park the machine and walk a few kilometres.







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