WHEREAS a municipality has the authority to prohibit the use of off-highway vehicles on municipally controlled highways under the Traffic Safety Act;
WHEREAS the authority to regulate off-highway vehicles found in the Traffic Safety Act does not extend to regulating the use of off-highway vehicles on public (crown owned) land;
WHEREAS the Traffic Safety Act provides that any bylaw enacted by a municipality that is inconsistent or contrary to the Traffic Safety Act must be enacted pursuant to specific authorization;
WHEREAS the Forest and Prairie Protection Act addresses fire hazards and limiting of the same in relation to all lands in Alberta except those lands located within an urban municipality and those lands owned by the Government of Canada;
WHEREAS the Forest and Prairie Protection Act does not contain any specific provisions addressing the operation of off-highway vehicles on public lands;
WHEREAS the use of off-highway vehicles on public lands is increasing;
WHEREAS there has been an increase in the number of incidents where an off-highway vehicles or a person using an off-highway vehicles has caused or contributed to a wildfire in Alberta;
WHEREAS the current legislative environment does not provide a municipality with any mechanism to limit or regulate the use of off-highway vehicles on public lands during times of increased fire risk;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Government of Alberta to:
1. Amend the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, to provide specific authority to municipalities to ban and/or regulate the use of off-highway vehicles on public lands when conditions so warrant;
• such authority should provide that:
o it is for the municipality to determine if the conditions present in the municipality warrant a ban or restrictions on the use of off-highway vehicles;
o the ban and/or restrictions may apply to the entire municipality or to parts of the municipality as determined necessary by the municipality; and
o the municipality may exempt or issue permits for certain activities during any ban placed on the use of off-highway vehicles by the municipality on public lands.
Alberta Sustainable Resources in its pamphlet entitled “Wildfire Prevention – Off Highway Vehicles” indicates that
“From 1993 to 2003 recreational activities were responsible for 1,293 wildfires in Alberta. The most common causes were:
• Improperly extinguished campfires,
• Unsafely built campfires, and
• Off Highway Vehicles.”
Wildfires may be ignited by hot exhaust systems and machine parts and sparks from the exhaust system of an off-highway vehicle. According to the article “All terrain vehicles as a cause of fire ignition in Alberta forests” there are three possible solutions which may be used to reduce or eliminate fires caused by off-highway vehicles which include:
1. Restricting or limiting the use of off-highway vehicles when conditions so warrant;
2. Spark arrestors and heat dispersion shrouds on all off-highway vehicles; and
3. Public education.
County of Thorhild No. 7 has had to deal with numerous wildfires over the last few years. These wildfires have placed significant stress on the community not only in relation to the cost of fighting fires but also in relation to opportunity cost for our volunteer fire fighters, repairs required to municipal infrastructure and the loss of buildings and homes in the community.
In 2008, the County of Thorhild No. 7 had six major fires which resulted in a state of emergency being declared. The six major fires resulted in a total cost of $6,200,000.00 which was incurred by the County and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. The investigation reports on the fires indicated that two of the six fires were started from suspected off-highway vehicle activity.
In 2009, the County of Thorhild No. 7 battled a fire on public land which was suspected to have been caused by off-highway vehicle activity. The County and Alberta Sustainable Resources incurred costs of $126,054.00 in battling the fire.
In 2010, the County of Thorhild No. 7 battled wildfires on occupied and unoccupied public lands and a state of emergency was declared. The total cost incurred by the County and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development was approximately $7,500,000.00. The investigation report indicated that the wildfires were due to off-highway vehicle activity.
In the end, off-highway vehicle activity is increasing around Alberta and causing or contributing to wildfires. Currently, there is no mechanism available to a municipality to control this activity during times when there is an increased risk of wildfires. A wildfire can cause significant damage and expense to a municipality and as a result, it is appropriate for the municipality to be able to limit those activities which increase the risk of a wildfire during times when conditions are ripe for such a fire.
12-08F: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC urge the Province to amend the Public Lands Act to provide the ability for a Peace Officer to also enforce certain violations due to off-highway vehicle use.
13-08F: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC urge the Province to take a lead role in developing a clear set of Acts, Regulations and Bylaw guidelines for all Albertans pertaining to the use of off-highway vehicles.
20-08F: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC urge the Province to develop a provincially sanctioned off-highway vehicle operator safety and education program
Sustainable Resource Development:
Fire bans and area closures are two ways to reduce the incidence of fire starts and are useful in short-term hazardous conditions. However, they are not long-term solutions to regulating off highway vehicle (OHV) use. Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) uses a broad-based approach and a variety of strategies to address OHV use and wildfire prevention, including education, engineering and enforcement.
Education and outreach programs with local OHV associations and communities help to improve awareness and prevention of OHV-caused fires. Engineering-based approaches involve designing trails that help to reduce the amount of vegetation that can potentially come in contact with hot exhaust pipes from OHVs, particularly in areas prone to fire starts.
SRD also strongly supports efforts to examine other contributing circumstances that bring combustible soil and vegetation into contact with hot exhaust systems. These include engineering considerations and vehicle design; enhancing compliance with existing exhaust regulation; and, where and when OHVs are permitted to operate.
Enforcement-based approaches are based on the Forest and Prairie Protection Act (FPPA) and associated regulations, which contain numerous provisions to protect human life, communities and infrastructure. The regulations list requirements for travelling through the Forest Protection Area (FPA) to limit wildfires caused by humans. The FPA Regulation defines the area where much of the act and regulations apply. The FPA administers fire prevention on most of the Crown lands in the province. Municipal boundaries can overlap the FPA or exist entirely outside of the boundary.
Enforcement within municipalities is a cooperative effort and responsibility of all levels of government. The Forest and Prairie Protection Regulations Part I require operators to have adequate tools and water for suppressing fires inside the FPA. All internal combustion engines must have spark arresters and mufflers in good working order. Municipalities outside the FPA have the authority to create and administer similar by-laws that meet their needs.
While municipalities share in the responsibility to mitigate fire risks, no progress has been made in allowing municipalities the flexibility and authority to do so. Therefore, response to the resolution continues to be deemed unsatisfactory. The AAMDC will continue to advocate on this issue.