At this point last winter, there was no talk of snowmobiles damaging blueberry land or anything else. Everything was covered in meters of snow. Snowmobiles crossing private property to get to trails were of little consequence.
Not so this year. Snowfalls from a few light storms quickly disappeared during frequent mild spells. With the ground largely bare for long stretches, snowmobilers are having a tough time enjoying their sport.
With no protective snow-cover, blueberries, strawberries and other crops are exposed and vulnerable. What are farmers and landowners to do about these machines trespassing on their property? Police can do little because they can’t follow the machines and it’s difficult to identify drivers.
Things got a little out of hand in mid-February this year when two men were arrested after rifles were used to keep snowmobilers off a property. One of the men fired his gun in the air.
Details are sketchy but no one can condone vigilante justice when people resort to guns to settle disputes. Yet, it’s an example that frustrated landowners are getting tired of having property damaged by people who don’t follow the rules. The issue is so serious that it was raised at a Standing Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries last week. MLAs were told that some farmers are being pushed to the edge.
One can sympathize with snowmobilers. They invest a lot of money in their machines and their sport is more fun travelling in groups. They need to buy a pass to travel on the Confederation Trail — the only legal area to ride unless they know a friendly landowner.
Some drivers can certainly be more considerate, like travelling along headlands or paths to get to the Confederation Trail, asking landowners for permission to cross, where is it acceptable to do so and what times would be the least disruptive.
Most snowmobilers don’t live along the Confederation Trail. They have to access the trail at intersections with roads or cross private property. There is pressure to ban snowmobiles from travelling in ditches, a legal way to drive along roadways while heading to trails. Some farmers think such a ban would prevent snowmobiles from accessing fields. It would also halt many machines from getting to trails and would likely ruin an industry which generates a lot of revenue for the province each winter.
Some snowmobile drivers might think, since no one complained last year, what’s the problem now? A little consideration could go a long way. There is no justification to get onto blueberry land and drive around and around the field. It’s just plain wrong.
The machines are fun but like any motorized vehicle, they can be dangerous and deadly if not used properly. It’s an exhilarating experience to snowmobile with friends on a lovely snowy day or night on P.E.I. That experience can still happen — by using common sense, some consideration and obeying the law.
But if some snowmobilers keep flaunting the rules, they’ll ruin it for everybody.