In an ongoing effort to provide clarity and education to residents of the Pipestone Creek area, the County of Wetaskiwin recently hosted a community information and grievance meeting regarding the use of off highway vehicles on private, public and crown land.
Assistant CAO Rod Hawken opened the meeting, Nov. 24, stating it was originally created for landowners to discuss private land issues with the county. However, due to an “overwhelming” response the focus was broadened to include a more educational component.
“The creek is there for public use in the winter,” said Hawken. He explained issues of where public land ends, private land begins and how the riparian area comes into the equation.
Robert Shorten, land management specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks, spoke to the Public Land Acts and what legislation says regarding the use of beds, lakes and shores.
“The Public Lands Act states that all of the beds and shores of naturally occurring, permanent waterbodies are crown land,” said Shorten.
He added, in relation to the use of the beds and shores, no person other than an employee, agent or contractor of the Government of Alberta, carrying out their duties, can occupy vacant public land that is a bed or shore of the natural, permanent waterbody. “Otherwise you need permission or a disposition from the department of Environment and Parks.”
Shorten says a question he is commonly asked is to identify the bed and shore of a waterbody — the most common and usual waterline, marking a distinct change in vegetation.
Shorten also addressed how private land and the creek interact; the landowners own rights to the bank, unless the county puts a municipal reserve on the land along the creek.
Wetaskiwin RCMP Sgt. Guy Perreault spoke to the audience about trespassing, mischief, gaming and liquor and the Traffic Safety Act — how riders should behave when using their off highway vehicles.
Trespassing occurs when any person without permission of the owner or occupier enters the land, or if they do not leave immediately upon request. This includes a lawn or garden, fenced land, land with a natural boundary and cultivated land.
Liable for a first offence is a fine not exceeding $2,000, and a second offence onward is a fine not exceeding $5,000. “Always remember, if you’re going to be entering private land, have permission,” said Perreault.
Mischief includes but is not limited to willfully destroying property, making property dangerous or obstructing property.
Off highway vehicle regulations state no one under the age of 14 can operate an off highway vehicle on public land without supervision of a person older than 18 year old.
Off highway vehicles must be registered, insures and license plates properly displayed.
CPO Graham Harper also touched on the Traffic Safety Act and how the county expects its residents to operate off highway vehicles on county roads.
County roads run from fence line to fence line, including ditches and operators must travel singe file, all rules of motor vehicle operation apply. “You cannot exceed the capacity of what those machines are for,” said Harper.
Off highway vehicles cannot be used recreationally on three-digit highways, they may only be used for farming operations. He noted it’s very likely the Government of Alberta is bringing in a mandatory helmet law for OHVs.
Consistent patrolling for off highway vehicle users breaking the rules was one issue brought up at the Nov. 24 meeting. Perreault says the RCMP have an enhanced policing policy with the County of Wetaskiwin. “There’s a plan in place.”
One attendee mentioned they find the most damage done to their land is during the winter, resulting in winter kill. Another feels the spring, when the ground is soft, results in the most damage.
Another attendee stated they felt without posting no trespassing signs landowners could not expect people, especially youth, to know to stay off their private property.
Landowners claimed trespassers will take signs down or just ignore the message.
During the meeting, the County of Wetaskiwin also had Cows and Fish riparian specialist Kerri O’Shaughnessy speak to the importance of riparian health and land management practices, which can be implemented by riders when on public land.