The following article hit the front page of the Timmins Daily Press, November 24, 2010
Kate Mclaren,The Daily Press
The Ministry of Natural Resources is responding to reports from residents in Northern Ontario that access to various pieces of Crown land is being restricted to benefit the tourist outfitters.
"I've seen some of the emails and letters we've been getting about this, and people should be aware that they can still access Crown land by hiking or portaging," said Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey, during a telephone interview Tuesday.
"We want people to fish and hunt in these areas, but we'reresticting access by motorized vehicles".
She added part of the allure of Northern Ontario lies in its remoteness.
"People like the fact that it's quiet and it's a little harder to get to.
"we're trying to find a balance between the opportunity for community development."
For Wawa resident Willy Smedts, the MNR's closure of certain bush roads has been anything but balanced, and has had a negative impact on his business.
Smedts and his wife Bonnie own and operate the Bristol Motel and Bristol Outfitting, a company which runs ATV and snowmobile tours. He said in his experience in the bush, more and more roads have been resticted on Crown land.
"One of the major ones I've noticed is a road we used a lot between Dubreuilville and Hornepayne. There are signs up that say"unauthorized vehicles are not permitted."
He said the restrictions have forced his tours to stay closer to home, or in some cases be cancelled completely."The problem is not only around this area, it's all over Northern Ontario. It's not right. This is Crown land."
Although MNR officials stated public consultations are held for land use policies, Smedts says he's growing frustrated with the ministry.
"I was told that if there was a certain road I used in the past,it would remain open," he said."Three weeks later it was closed." I went to one of the public meetings, and it seemed like the ministry already had their minds made up. They had a map of differnt areas sectioned off and basically told us these were the areas they were closing off." His worry is that more roads used for his business will be closed down in the future.
"I feel like the MNR is sneaking these restrictions in slowly. It seems like they are catering to the big tourist operators." Jeffery explained there have been ongoing consultations in Northern Ontario regarding road access, but the most effective way to address the issue is to speak with local MPPs.
"I'm in the House of Commons four days a week, and these members can always approach me," Jeffrey said "I'm happy to work with any of our Northern members."
Smedts hopes the road restrictions will be overturned, but Nature and Outdoor Tourism (NOTO) executive director Doug Reynolds maintains the Ministry has the right to restrict the use of land for a variety of reasons.
"There's this underlying assumption that there is an inherent right to unrestricted access to any land, which is false," Reynolds said.
"We've talked to users who appreciate what we are doing,and we have no problem with people who access the land by foot."
He echoed Jeffrey's sentiments, saying restrictions are based not on users but on access type.
:The tourism industry in Northern Ontario has a very significant impact on the local economy," he said. "I can tell you based on older figures, we at one time employed more people than mining and slightly less than forestry."
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