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Crown land off-highway vehicle fees coming, says environment minister

Public engagement campaign starting with online survey
area mla
Jason Nixon, Sundre-area MLA and minister of Environment and Parks. File photo/MVP Staff

Off-highway vehicle (OHV) users could start paying a fee for using their machines on Crown land, including west of Sundre and Cremona, starting this summer, says Jason Nixon, Sundre-area MLA and minister of Environment and Parks.

Nixon’s department is currently conducting a public engagement campaign, including an online survey, regarding recreational use of Crown lands.

“I think the intention, if possible, will be to bring in the fees for quadding this summer. But just because of the unique situation with the pandemic framework, we just can’t quite guarantee we can get it all in place by then,” said Nixon.

“One of the things we heard very clearly from Albertans prior to the last election was the need to bring in a user fee for off-highway vehicles and random camping.”

How much the fees will be has not been announced.

Money brought in from the fees will be targetted to two specific areas, he said.

“One is increased enforcement, so more boots on the ground to help with enforcement,” he said. “And second, to help with organizations such as Friends of the Eastern Slopes and others that are partnering with us to maintain trails or campgrounds. It can’t go to general revenue; it has to go to those two parameters.”

Asked if the government plans to make provisions for persons who cannot afford the fees to have them reduced or waived, he said, “We’ve seen that with National Parks Service where they have provisions to deal with affordability issues and that would be top of mind.”

The survey includes the following questions: What do you think are the best ways for partnerships to contribute to providing the kind of experiences and services Albertans want to see? Do you feel the collection of user-based fees is the right approach for enabling sustainable recreation opportunities on provincial Crown land? What kinds of options are important to you when considering paying fees for recreation. Respondents are also asked for comments.

To date more than 70 responses have been received, with comments included the following: “All users should pay. Why not a fee to cover the cost of building hiking trails”; “Don’t give public land to municipalities or recreational groups”; “Tax forestry based on acres of land they effectively take away from recreational use”; “Random camping and OHV are having too big of an impact.”

Input garnered through the public engagement campaign, including the survey, will be used in guiding future policy and legislation for Crown lands, he said.

“The government is seeking input into how to support the responsible use of Crown lands, including trails, how we can enhance trails experiences for a variety of users, supporting partnerships, funding opportunities, and how money can be re-invested into recreation as well as education and enforcement,” he said.

“We want to make sure we get it out to as many Albertans as we can, and particularly those who use Crown land. In our constituency we have a lot of that, so it’s very important that we hear from Albertans so we can understand some of the things they want us to get working on.”

The engagement process is part of the province’s Crown Land Vision to “make the land-use system clear and understandable, support sustainable funding and partnerships for recreation and focus on outcomes and reducing red tape,” he said.

Once the survey is completed, Nixon’s department plans other public engagement activities, including possible virtual town halls, he said.

“The process is going to take probably a little over a year to do all the Crown work, but we are focusing in the beginning on the recreation side,” he said. 

“The survey is the starting point. Ultimately, the goal is to get some legislation into the legislature this spring and fall to complete the transformation work we hope to do on Crown land.”

Visit the Alberta Environment and Parks website at alberta.ca to find the survey.