OntORA: December 2008 Newsletter

ONTARIO OUTDOORS RECREATIONAL ALLIANCE (OntORA)

35 Amber Street – Sault Ste. Marie, On P6A 6N6 <OntOra@hotmail.com>

NOTO OBJECTS TO OntORA/USW ARTICLE:

Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters’ (NOTO) Todd Eastman took exception to an article slated for the January issue of the United Steelworkers’ (USW) Ontario publication which was posted on our popular blog http://www.crownland.org/blog/. Obviously, many people are reading our blog, not all of them members.  Eastman sent a terse e-mail to USW Director Wayne Fraser, whose answer was short and to the point: “Denying access to lakes and rivers except for a select few individuals and or businesses is a clear violation of the right of ordinary citizens of Ontario. The provincial Government cannot violate our rights in lieu of others. If your group supports this then we do not need to hear from you, we understand clearly your position of elitism. We will continue to fight for our rights. We will not sit back and let this Government trade away our rights to benefit others I don’t care who they are.”

That’s telling them, Wayne!  Eastman contended that our article was “inaccurate and misleading” and defended the vast portions of Ontario reserved for paying tourists by stating, among others: “This is about choice- I am happy to live in a province where I can choose to eat at the caliber of restaurant I choose”.

Here’s what OntORA answered to a further note outlining his objections to our article: “Thank you for your e-mail, Todd, and your points of view and information on public access to Crown lands. You may be technically correct about some ordinary citizens not being treated as criminals or charged for walking on a posted road behind a gate.  However, the many different posted “no access” signs on too many taxpayer subsidized roads do not indicate that people will not be charged for simply walking past the signs or gates.  The signs generally say that “access to XYZ lakes by this road is prohibited” and that charges will be laid if you “trespass”.  That would lead any normal person to believe that access to those lakes by any means is prohibited. Not too many people will go back to read the Public Lands Act or consult a lawyer before attempting to walk a minimum of three kilometers, carrying all their gear on their backs, to access a prohibited lake or area. Even you, in your first paragraph, plainly state: “… these Crown lands are open to everyone.  People are simply asked to get to these areas without using roads…” (Emphasis added) Confusing?  You bet, perhaps intentionally so?

With all due respect, it appears to us that the line both NOTO and the MNR use, that of “Crown lands being open to everyone” is a tongue-in-cheek, “wink-wink” statement that is used for PR purposes.  The statement has no practical meaning since, even if people could interpret the signs to mean that walking is permitted, walking many kilometers while hauling all your fishing, camping, food and other gear on your back is certainly impractical if not impossible.

I realize that you are representing the interests of your constituents, and we all agree that remote tourist operators have a right to a reasonable return on their investments.  But the public also has a right of real access to those lakes and lands, it is after all, public land and all we want are the same rights of real access as paying tourists. Why can’t we meaningfully enjoy nature’s bounty together?

Contrary to what some of our detractors may say, we do not want a road to every lake, far from it.  We merely want to have real access to the great lakes and land that the good Lord put here for all of us to use, the paying tourists and average everyday taxpaying folks who can’t afford or don’t want fly-ins and expensive lodges.”

Thanks to Director Wayne Fraser and the 75,000 strong Ontario Steelworkers for their support and assistance.  When you talk to Steelworker members, tell them how much we appreciate their help.

CCEACL MERGES WITH OntORA:

The Executive Board of the Citizens’ Committee for Equal Access to Crown Lands has agreed to merge with the Ontario Outdoors Recreational Alliance (OntORA) effective immediately.  The Citizens’ Committee, led by President Rod Jarmovitch and activist Maurice Taylor and Tom Taylor, has been very active in the past and completed a successful drive for a petition calling for equal public access that garnered over 8,000 names.  Welcome members of CCEACL – we’re in this together for as long as it takes.

WAWA DISTRICT MNR UP TO THEIR OLD TRICKS….AGAIN:

The Wawa District Ministry of Natural Resources held a series of open houses to showcase their CLUAH project, attended by OntORA’s VP Mike Boudreau, District 3 Director Dino Tarini and joined in Wawa by Sr. VP Tom Brason. The centerpiece was a list of 138 public lakes that are currently being ‘protected’… protected from public access and enjoyment that is.  89 of these lakes will continue to be designated as remote tourism lakes with signs, gates and other physical barriers prohibiting public access.

A total of 49 “excess lakes”  that have similarly been under public access restrictions even though not used by remote-based outfitters, will now be referred to as “opportunity lakes”. These lakes will continue to be “protected” from public access and held for the possible future expansion of remote tourism.

Through the “generosity” of our local MNR, 11 ‘drive in’ lakes from the total may be available to provide the public with a “quality recreational experience” according to the MNR.  They say the economic value of these 11 lakes can create a place for the public’s enjoyment of recreational values close to towns, very considerate of them.  According to the MNR, these 11 out of a total of 138 lakes may foster more road-based tourism besides providing recreational opportunities to local residents.  Apparently, road-based tourism is not high on the MNR’s priority list.

Although 127 of our public lakes are being reserved for the exclusive use and enjoyment of paying tourists, only 11 are offered for both public access and road-based tourism. This is blatant discrimination because these lakes belong to all of us collectively.  Road-based tourism, which actually brings families into our towns to eat at restaurants, purchase supplies etc., is being treated like a second class citizen, same as the general public.

Yet, the MNR and NOTO say that the public isn’t being stopped, only that they just can’t use roads or trails to access designated lakes.  But, they say, we can always WALK in, carrying all our gear, food and equipment on our backs for at least three kilometers. 😉

TEMAGAMI BROOK TROUT MNR REGULATIONS A FARCE:

Gaye Smith, former Chairman of the Temagami Stewardship Council (TSC) reminds us that one of the last official acts of that Council was to respond to the very unpopular speckled trout regulation that was introduced in zone 11 in January, 2008. That response and the TSC’s objections to the regulation can be found under TSC News on its web page at www.temagamistewardship.ca . Andy Todd, of MNR Fisheries Branch has finally replied to TSC’s objections on November 26, 2008, which is also posted on the TSC webpage. The following is the meat of the response..

“Generally, the local biologists believe that the brook trout fishery in zone 11 is stressed with very few naturally reproducing brook trout lakes remaining. The naturally producing fisheries that still exist are typically small and very vulnerable to many stressors including overexploitation and invasive species. As a result, it was felt that management action to protect the remaining lakes was warranted, and as you are aware, in January 2008 a new approach was taken to brook trout management in this area.

The specific issues facing the North Bay lakes led the local district to develop a solution that should help improve the overall brook trout fishery in zone 11. It is believed that by reducing the harvest of large brook trout, quality fishing opportunities would be maintained and the lakes would be more resilient to the introduction of species such as yellow perch. At the time the changes were made there was not an approved tool kit for brook trout.”

Note the word “believe” is used, since how would they know? There have been no recent definitive studies conducted on brook trout lakes and the input gathered in early 2006 amounted to 6 submissions, 4 of which only wanted a year long season. While the comment about naturally reproducing brook trout lakes may be correct, the TSC submission did not question a regulation for naturally reproducing lakes. The TSC reservations were based on the Brook Trout Tool Kit. The Tool Kit was supposed to be used to gather public opinion for all brook trout lakes in Ontario. The Tool Kit approach to fisheries management stated that, The goal of this approach is to ensure that regulations can be rationalized on a sound biological basis to achieve resource sustainability while, at the same time, streamlining and simplifying Ontario’s fishing regulations and providing a variety of angling opportunities.” The tool kit did not provide a size option for a brook trout regulation and in fact stated that size would not be a regulation for put and take lakes.

Why was the tool kit for brook trout disregarded in Zone 11? The Guidelines for Managing the Recreational Fishery for Brook Trout in Ontario were posted in October, 2006. There was ample time for MNR, North Bay to change a proposal submitted for a 2007 regulation as the new regulations didn’t came into effect until January of 2008. Zones 6 and 4 in Northern Ontario obviously had time to base their brook trout regulation on input from the tool kit.

Gaye doesn’t mince words: “The MNR’s attempts to appear to be allowing public involvement in the management of our natural resources has been and is a farce. If you think things will change in these so-called zone advisory councils I have some swampland for you in Florida”.

(Submitted by Gaye Smith – former Chairman, Temagami Stewardship Council)

NIPISSING AREA NEWS:

OntORA’s District 7 Director, Edgar Labelle, is a consummate outdoorsman, conservationist and devoted to helping the outdoors community.  Edgar was a Director with the Lake Nipissing Stewardship Council for about two years. However, he resigned because he felt that the Council was solely under the guidance of the MNR District Manager assisted by other MNR officials. Whatever the Council voted for was rarely accepted by the MNR unless it fitted in their preconceived plans. North Watch, the LCC and any seminar or workshop exercises were mere formalities.

Members of the Nipissing Natural Resources Access Group and Sturgeon Falls Rod & Gun Club were on the Highway 805 Trout Fishery Advisory committee when a vote was taken to allow a public access at the south end of Lake Obabika. The majority of the board voted for it but the local officials refused to grant it. Shortly after that, the committee was dissolved.

The West Nipissing Natural Resources Access Group came into being some 20 years ago. Up until the MNR declared that they were short of funds, the Group did a lot of bush road and trail maintenance. Then the MNR said that it could no longer afford to financially assist their volunteer road and trail maintenance work. The Group was also involved in repairing and building boat-launches in River Valley, Crystal Falls, Sturgeon Falls, Cross and Temagami Lakes. Volunteers would do the work and the MNR would supply the heavy machinery, which included repairs on washouts and culverts etc. Now the MNR refuses to participate and are closing more public roads instead of maintaining them.

For that reason and the cost of liability insurance, the WNNR Access Group will close its doors as of Dec. 31st, 2008. However, they will team up with the Sturgeon Falls Rod & Gun Club under a committee arrangement. Edgar will remain as a Director with the new group which will continue to monitor roads and trails and do some maintenance

Edgar has a wealth of experience behind him, and is ready to share his enthusiasm and anecdotes of how the public are being treated as second class citizens on our own public lands while paying tourists get first-class government service. <edgarlabelle@hotmail.com>

OBABIKA LAKE ACCESS BATTLE RAGES ON:

The MNR, in its usual wisdom, closed access to Obabika Lake, north of River Valley, in 1998 despite a local Advisory Committee recommendation and public demand that access be left open.  The Temagami Comprehensive Council’s recommendation, accepted by the Ontario Government then was: “If (present) access to Obabika Lake via the Obabika Lodge is permanently refused to the general public… a planning process be initiated to assess…..establishing a public access point on the Lake”. After this “assessment”, and much opposition from many quarters, including from OFAH, the MNR closed public access…period.  The battle has raged on for 10 years, but the MNR‘s closure protects the only outfitter on the lake, Lake Obabika Lodge, which also unusually sponsored an MNR Status Report on the health of lake trout populations in several Obabika area lakes and of course, the report said that the trout resources in the area was “heavily stressed”.  OntORA’s Edgar Labelle says that the battle is far from over.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY, HEALTHY NEW YEAR

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Partners and Associates of the Ontario Outdoors Recreational Alliance (OntORA), Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2009.

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