It is illegal to drive wheeled and tracked vehicles in waterways in Alberta. This includes off-highway vehicles, jeeps, and trucks. Also, OHVs can spread invasive species and start wildfires if they are not properly cleaned and maintained.
On July 10, the Lesser Slave Watershed Council posted on Facebook, “our office has received complaints that there are folks driving up and down the shoreline in Joussard to clean their machines.
“Driving an OHV in the lake is an offense and can result in large fines.
“Driving in the lake can introduce invasive species, cause erosion, raise turbidity and damage fish habitat. If you see someone driving in the lake you can call the Report a Poacher hotline 1-800-642-3800, or the RCMP and local officers will respond. We all need to do our part to keep our lake beautiful and healthy.”
Report a Poacher’s website says illegal activities include “driving a vehicle through the bed or shore of a natural waterbody.”
The Alberta Traffic Act defines an OHV as a (an): amphibious craft (goes on both water and land), dune buggies, off-road motorcycles, quads and trikes, and snowmobiles. This does not include jeeps and pickup trucks. However, the law applies to these as well.
“OHV riders may only cross wetlands, creeks, and rivers on bridges or lawful crossings,” says ‘Motorized recreation on public land’ on the Alberta government’s website.
The Alberta government website says, “in Alberta, the province owns most of the beds and shores of naturally occurring lakes, rivers and streams. It also owns most of the beds and shores of wetlands if they are permanent and naturally occurring bodies of water.”
There are very few exceptions, the website continues. These are former Hudson Bay Company land, where the land grant references beds and shores, federal lands, court-defined rights, non-permanent wetlands, and undefined stream channels.
Anytime someone uses public land (hiking, camping, OHVing, etc.) there is the potential for environmental impact.
A government of Alberta pamphlet ‘Recreation on Public Land’ includes sections entitled “Happy campers leave nothing behind”, “Keep wheels out of water”, “Tread softly and stay on track” and “Be prepared for whatever your adventure brings.”
OHVs can have more impact that some other actions because of their speed and size, says ‘Motorized recreation on public land’. Improper use can impact the soil causing compaction, contamination and erosion. Legally OHVs can only be used on approved trails. They cannot be driven through streams, lakes, rivers, watercourses, wetlands, or waterbodies.
‘Motorized recreation’ says, “driving in these areas produces harmful ruts and erosion problems. In addition, fine sediments stirred up by tires are harmful to fish.”
Plant and other debris on OHVs can also cause problems.
Every Slave Lake Forest Area wildfire update includes the reminder that debris heated on mufflers and other parts of OHVs can cause wildfires.
The Alberta government’s website says “to prevent the spread of invasive species, off-highway vehicle users are requested to remove any vegetation or clumps of mud or debris from the vehicle and thoroughly clean the underside of vehicles, tires and parts before moving to another area.”
There is also reminder to not do this in or near natural waterbodies. Carwashes (and presumably at home) is recommended.
The ‘Off-Highway Vehicle Regulations’ within the Traffic Safety Act says to drive an OHV on public lands it must be registered, insured, have a license plate, headlights, taillights and a muffler.
Exceptions include “an off-highway vehicle owned by a trapper and operated solely on that trapper’s registered trap line.” While there is no commercial fishing in Alberta, the OHV regulations include an exemption for commercial ice fishing in northern Alberta.
OHV riders and people being towed behind an OHV are required to wear helmets. These must be rated for the speed an OHV travels at. OHVs with roll-cages and seat belts don’t require helmets.
People under 14 years old are not allowed to drive AHVs on public land.