Vigilante justice about to come down on P.E.I. snowmobilers

Dave Stewart
Published on March 6, 2016

Randy Pitre, who managers approximately 400 acres of blueberry crops in Alberry Plains, says these photos he took show snowmobilers are trespassing on that farmland and damaging the crops. The photos on the left and right show tracks over the blueberry plants while the centre photo shows snowmobilers are ignoring the "no trespassing" sign on the post.

©THE GUARDIAN/Dave Stewart

Crop manager says farmers' patience stretched to limit by snowmobilers driving over fields, damaging plants

Islanders are being pushed to the edge of vigilante justice, says the leader of the Green Party of P.E.I.

Peter Bevan-Baker made that comment on Friday after listening to a presentation by Randy Pitre, who manages approximately 400 acres of blueberry crops in Alberry Plains.

Pitre spoke to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries, complaining that growers are reaching the breaking point when it comes to off-road vehicles, primarily snowmobiles, trespassing on their fields and damaging crops.

Pitre said he estimates the blueberry operations he manages have sustained roughly $25,000 in damage caused by snowmobiles. Farmers are getting frustrated to the point of taking matters into their own hands.

"They are coming onto private property and doing extensive damage,'' Pitre told the media following his presentation, adding that when it comes to blueberry crops, plants are encouraged to grow to a certain height before they can be harvested.

"When you have an 800-pound machine coming in and trampling that down, it's doing extensive damage. They are trespassing on property. They don't have permission to be there.''

Pitre is asking the committee to recommend that the province amend legislation that allows snowmobilers to travel in ditches by the side of the road. The theory is to ban them from ditches and they won't be able to go from field to field.

"It just doesn't make sense. They're not allowed to travel on public roadways, only to cross them, but I have witnessed where they are travelling on actual roadways in order to get from field to field.''

Pitre's presentation included photographs that show exactly what he describes.

"Farmers and producers are frustrated.''

MORE: MLAs make suggestions to address issue of snowmobilers

Bevan-Baker said he's heard the same concern from growers in his riding.

"There is widespread concern,'' Bevan-Baker said. "I think it's a huge problem on P.E.I.''

The RCMP reminds drivers they are only permitted on the trail and are required to have a pass. Snowmobilers are also required to stay off private property unless they have the owner's consent.

However, Pitre said catching offenders is difficult for police. The machines can move at fast speeds, police cannot pursue in their cruisers and drivers are hard to identify with equipment and a helmet on.

Pitre said his operations do have "no trespassing" signs posted, but they are ignored and have, in some cases, been knocked down.

He said growers are desperate, pointing to an incident in Winsloe North earlier this month where a snowmobiler with one passenger stopped at a barricade and were confronted by a man carrying an assault rifle. During an RCMP investigation, police determined a second incident occurred involving the same man and a friend where one of the men allegedly fired a gun in the air when snowmobiles approached the barricade.

"He put up a barricade trying to protect his own property. What is a person to do? It's sad when it has to come to that. It shouldn't come to that.''

The Guardian reached out to the P.E.I. Snowmobile Association, but the call was not immediately returned. Pitre said the association informed him that it encourages snowmobilers to register with them and use the trails.

MLAs make suggestions to address issue of snowmobilers illegally driving on private property

Launch an education campaign about where snowmobiles are allowed to operate and require drivers to display bigger tags.

Those are two of the suggestions MLAs trotted out Friday in response to testimony from one blueberry crop manager who complained that snowmobilers are ignoring "no trespassing" signs and damaging crops.

Randy Pitre, who manages approximately 400 acres in Alberry Plains, told the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries that it's a problem that continues to happen.

Pitre is asking the committee to recommend to the legislature that legislation be amended making it illegal for snowmobilers to use ditches, something the current laws allow.

Pitre said snowmobilers should be restricted to designated areas, such as their own property or the Confederation Trail, the latter of which they are permitted to use.

Liberal MLA Bush Dumville wasn't impressed that snowmobilers are ignoring "no trespassing" signs. He also suggested an education campaign is in order to stress that users stay off private land, unless they have permission, and that snowmobilers be required to display identification tags that make it easier to identify the offenders.

Tory MLA Brad Trivers is calling for an infrastructure summit where this could be on the agenda, while fellow Tory Colin LaVie said with the growing popularity of snowmobiling, snowshoeing and sledding, the province should be capitalizing on the tourism component by creating designated areas.