OHVs and the OWC: Where Do We Stand?

Off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is a hot topic in Alberta right now. Many people are curious about where the Oldman Watershed Council stands on this matter. For us, the bottom line is watershed health, and everyone has a part to play.

In Alberta, we have a unique situation of multiple users on our public lands, whose intentions and philosophies are, at times, conflicting and contradictory. One thing we can all agree on, though, is the need for clean, clear, and plentiful water for current and future generations.

The Oldman Watershed Council is a voice for the watershed. As part of our mandate, we engage and represent the voices of all users,* stakeholders, and partners. This includes both motorized and non-motorized recreationists, community and conservation groups, and government. Together, we seek balanced, practical solutions that respect the requirements of the watershed.

The OWC bases its information and projects on scientific evidence, and advocates for respect of the published ecological thresholds. The watershed may support various land uses—including recreational OHV use—within these thresholds. Our actions must be undertaken with respect and minimize our impacts; in this way, we may continue to enjoy the land - and clean, clear, plentiful water - for generations to come.

Many backcountry OHV riders feel a strong connection to the land. Knowledgeable riders understand that their actions can either help or harm the watershed. There is no question that irresponsible OHV use can cause damage, and the cumulative effects of linear features such as roads and trails have ecological implications. Driving OHVs through waterways contributes to erosion of streambanks, stirs up sediment, and damages vital plants—all of which creates issues for fish and affects the water quality downstream.

Instead, recreationists who steer clear of water and use hard crossings such as bridges or dry beds, still enjoy the backcountry while minimizing their impacts on watershed health. OHV groups like the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad work hard to build and maintain bridges over waterways and to educate riders.

Bridge-building—both literally and figuratively—will be a major focus of the OWC’s activities this summer as we continue our “Engaging Recreationists” project. We will be working hard to connect recreationists to what's happening along our rivers and creeks through conversations, practical tools and events. The OWC will also be advising the government on policy, setting up a demonstration site for riparian restoration and bioengineering in the headwaters (which is really cool—you should come check it out!), conducting surveys across all user groups, and initiating conversations about watershed health.

Our goal at the Oldman Watershed Council is to work collaboratively to facilitate positive change for the good of the watershed—which includes the water, the land, and the people. Ultimately, as Albertans, we all need to respect the land and do what we can to take care of the watershed. Because when it comes down to it, we are all downstream.

*P.S.: We also have ongoing projects to engage other users, e.g. ranchers (see our Watershed Legacy Program) and urban residents (see our Prairie Urban Garden project and Stormwater publications), in doing their part to protect our watershed.