Porcupine Hills: AMSA Off-Road Race
This May long weekend, outreach assistants Rob Taylor and Thomas Porter attended the Alberta Motorsports Association's(AMSA) Lost Mountain Goat 100 off road race series in the Porcupine Hills. We were invited by Keith Routley, the vice-president of AMSA to come and conduct surveys and have conversations with those attending the race. Keith is also a member of OWC’s Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC), and as such is a supporter and partner of the Oldman Watershed Council.
Keith also highlighted for us that AMSA has started operating as a commercial venture. This means that they now must receive approval from Alberta Environment and Parks land use planners before they run the races. The Adult and Ladies expert series went ahead as scheduled on Saturday, allowing Thomas and Rob to get out and conduct surveys and have meaningful conversations over the course of the day.
Bad weather and poor trail conditions on Sunday meant that the youth race was cancelled. This was an excellent example of the kind of proactive approach that Keith and the rest of AMSA take to be a role model for OHV users, as they know riding on wet trails causes extra soil erosion, which degrades water quality.
The results of the surveys were highly informative. There were a couple of key points that almost every person interviewed wanted us to highlight. Mainly, there is a strong desire for more enforcement in the backcountry, support for user fees for people who want to use their OHVs on crown land, and that there is a definite need for an education program similar to Drivers Ed’ for OHV users.
On a different note, Rob and Thomas also happened upon an ancient projectile point and some bison bone fragments. These artifacts were falling out of the cut from an improvised ATV trail near the Beaver Creek Road. Rob’s wife is a consulting Archaeologist in Alberta, so they were able to report the site to Alberta Culture. A contact at Alberta Culture said that there had previously been a site recorded at that location, but in 2001 when it was last assessed it was not threatened. They are now looking into sending someone out to the site to assess if anything further needs to be done to protect the site.
Rob’s wife also determined that the point was an Atlatl dart point from the Oxbow Culture, dating it to approximately 5000 years before present! This discovery was a strong reminder that we are not the first people to use this landscape. It has been home to First Nations for time immemorial. If we want to have a healthy, resilient landscape for generations to come we need to think about how to use the land in the most responsible, sustainable way possible.
While Rob and Thomas were at the AMSA, Ryan and Nicola spent the May long weekend camped out at Dutch Creek, engaging with recreationists and collecting information on stream crossings, unhealthy stream banks and garbage left behind by campers so that we can work towards restoring these areas.
While out exploring this area of the headwaters, we were able to talk with many different recreationist groups including expert OHV users, campers, hunters and hikers. Some people had been coming to this area for over 20 years, while others admitted that this was their first time camping in this type of setting. Regardless of experience level or interest, everyone was extremely welcoming and interested in the topic of watershed health and human access. Not only that, but as we conducted surveys with these folks, it quickly became clear that these recreationists were well informed and knowledgeable about water issues in this area. Very inspiring!
Our conversations with campers covered a wide variety of topics, both positive and negative. On the issue of littering, the vast majority of people were adamantly against it, taking much pride in leaving their campgrounds as pristine as they found them. Remember, pack out what you pack in! Throughout the weekend, the Outreach Assistants found a few abandoned campsites that resembled garbage dumps, showing that not all recreationists share this respect for wild places. If you see similar situations, remember to call the Report a Poacher hotline (1-800-642-3800), which is available for any type of damaging activity.
Many of the recreationists also expressed concern about how OHV use has been affecting Dutch Creek over the years. These concerns were more around a lack of proper management, not necessarily a direct impact by individuals. Take stream crossings for example. Most of the people we chatted with don’t want to continuously ride through creeks and streams, knowing that it leads to the destruction of fish habitat and the erosion of stream-side soil. They felt that if bridges were in place, it would protect this delicate ecosystem while still ensuring a fun ride!
The cutting down of healthy trees was also an area of concern from many. These trees are a very important factor in maintaining a balanced Dutch Creek environment. On cold weekends especially, a blazing fire is a saving grace, but it is your responsibility to bring firewood with you or get a firewood permit from the Government of Alberta before you head out.
Other recommendations included increased enforcement, expanded educational opportunities for user groups, and the possibility of user fees, which would go directly to healthy management on the area. It was great to have the chance to interact with so many diverse groups and to find that most people had similar values about this important piece of our watershed.
It was an interesting weekend to be out at Dutch Creek. The rainy weather helped highlight just how quickly human activity can impact the environment. As the soil and vegetation became wet with rain, we were able to witness rapid changes to the land and roads. Tiny ruts quickly turned into large mud pits, while erosion and sedimentation increased drastically in the wet conditions. It was really eye-opening to see firsthand just how easily we can manipulate the landscape, despite our best intentions. No matter the activity, we all leave a mark. That’s why it is important for everyone to to be mindful about best practices and follow regulations for each backcountry activity.
We had a great time exploring the area and getting to know some of the friendliest campers around. Despite the unfortunate weather, everyone was in great spirits! And many people expressed interest in being a part of the OWC through future volunteer initiatives! You can too!
If you're interested to see more pictures from both of our weekend adventures, check out our Flickr account! See you in the backcountry!
UPDATE: May 27, 2016
Did you know? The Report a Poacher Hotline (1-800-642-3800) is for more than just poaching! Our Outreach Assistants just got off the phone with their call centre, and they filled us in with some crucial information for anyone heading outdoors.
If you’re in the backcountry and witness any of the following, make sure you phone the hotline as soon as possible:
• Significant littering or garbage left around campsites
• Motorized vehicles driving through water sources
• Poaching of any kind
• Problem bears
• Fishing violations
• Destruction or vandalism of signage and infrastructure
• Severely wounded animals
Make sure to have as much information as possible written down before you call the hotline. This information might include:
• What kind of incident you have witnessed
• Location of incident
• Time of incident
• How many people or animals involved
• License plate numbers of people involved
• Your personal contact information
• If possible, photos of the incident
After the incident has been reported, an enforcement officer will contact you to follow up to confirm details.
Remember, the wild places we travel to deserve our respect, and we must all do our part to ensure they are safe from illegal activity!