Reprinted from “The Echo” (Manitouwadge, Ontario)
It was standing room only in the Manitouwadge Council chambers on March 12th when over 200 people attended a meeting to hear about the potential loss of access to area lakes.
Bob Kirkpatrick opened up the meeting with a short history of why a group of concerned citizens decided to raise the issue of restrictions on crown land.
There is a serious issue throughout the northern part of Ontario with respect to public access to crown land. This is a significant issue in our area now and has the potential to become far more serious in the near future.
The purpose of the meeting was to determine if others had concerns and exchange information from residents about issues of concern to them. Those present where not disappointed as speaker after speaker provided examples of how we are losing crown land access.
A presentation was made to explain how the MNR communicates their intentions on Crown Land and how to read the wording used by planners. Information on web sites, locations of information and examples on how to navigate through the documents to get to the nugget that matters to individuals was demonstrated. The key message is that the information is out there, on line or at MNR offices and people need to learn to ask and pursue the information that matters most to them. It can be very time consuming, but if all work together and share the load, then they can become better informed.
The immediate goal of the steering group was to have the 49 opportunity lakes identified in the CLUAH process removed from the list. Once that is accomplished, the focus would move towards other access restrictions. The good news was that a recent meeting with MNR planning staff in Wawa resulted in confirmation that the 49 lakes would continue to be accessible as they are now. That is a departure from what is in the CLUAH documents.
An open question and answer period helped identify many other issues. Why are certain lakes restricted even when remote outfitters do not use them? No one should be able to tie up crown land for indefinite periods without using it. After a period of inactivity, these lakes should revert to open use.
The severe restrictions imposed in the Wawa, Dubreuilville and White River areas are of major concern. Whole sections of forests have become off limits to residents. People also wanted to know who uses the lakes, are they American, Canadian? How much use is there? What is the value of the use compared to the value to our local economy of having local residents access that lake. Stories of outfitters telling local residents to leave areas during a hunt were also brought forward. The point was also made that many people who moved to Manitouwadge in recent years was to hunt and fish. These restrictions are now causing some to move away.
Many other issues were raised. Mike Boudreau, Vice President of the Ontario Outdoors Recreational Alliance (OntORA) attended the meeting and discussed the importance of this historic meeting. He shared on the experience residents of White River, Dubreuilville and Wawa have gone through and how important it is to become organized and have one voice in Ontario to limit the impact on the restrictions being imposed to northerners. What is happening in Manitouwadge started many years ago in Wawa area and eventually, there is very little access left if people do not get organized and express their opposition to such arbitrary controls on our own lands.
Having brought only 50 packages to hand out, Mike was overwhelmed with the large gathering and promised to send more packages for distribution. Packages will be provided at Major’s Automotive. He encouraged all to get organized, join OntORA and stay informed.
The meeting wrapped up with people looking at maps, signing up for more information and volunteering to be on the steering committee. It was impressive to see people from Chapleau, Marathon, White River and Hawk Junction present as well as a majority of our town council. It was clear to everyone that this issue is not going away and working together is the only chance there is to limit the damage.