The following letter was sent to newspaper editors throughout Ontario for publication.
August 27, 2012
As a long-time member of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), I have many good things to say about them, but I also have some scathing criticism of their shameful compromised position on public access to our lakes and forests.
Over the years, the OFAH has done commendable work in conservation, invasive species, habitat restoration, education, political involvement and fighting for certain rights of hunters and anglers. But public access is another story.
Under the Ontario Public Lands Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, citizens should have equal public access to our public lands without fear of discrimination, intimidation or impediments. If any area is closed for bona fide reasons, it should be closed to everyone, including tourists.
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), in concert with Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters (NOTO) have virtually reserved about 2,000 of our best lakes and thousands of square kilometres of pristine public lands for the exclusive use of paying tourists – and locals are kept out “to promote remote tourism values.” For the uninitiated, that means “we can charge much more $$ if there are no locals interfering with our guests having the lakes and forests all to themselves.”
Moreover, MNR budget cuts have prompted the closure of thousands of Kms of bush roads where berms and the removal of culverts & bridges prevent families from enjoying four-wheeling, berry-picking, exploring or sight-seeing. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we live in the north!
Of course, The MNR & NOTO like to say, tongue in cheek, that locals can always WALK in to these 2,000 lakes, carrying their gear, food, camping equipment and boats on their backs, anywhere from 3 to 40 Kms. They know that’s impossible.
When a large organization like OFAH officially voices its opinion, it should also follow through with relevant action. Not so. According to OFAH’s Matt DeMille in a letter to the MNR last September, he states that “Crown lands….have witnessed the erosion of accessibility to the Crown forest road network” and “The public discontent resulting from diminishing accessibility is further intensified by the lack of any assurance that public … values will be protected……… (and) in contrast, remote tourism operators receive protection under the (law)……..”
That sounds like they are against MNR restrictions to public access, but no. While the OFAH decries some restrictions and suggests some minor modifications, the same OFAH letter also agrees that there should be at least a one Km buffer (No Trespassing) zone (instead of the present 3 Kms) around all these remote tourism lakes – still effectively keeping locals from accessing “tourism” lakes. Further, the OFAH letter makes their position abundantly clear; that the artificial “remoteness” of these tourist lodges should continue to be protected from intrusion by the public.
It must be noted that the Ontario Out Of Doors (OOD) magazine, owned and published by the OFAH, makes considerable revenue from remote tourism outfitters’ advertisement, OOD editors travel to many of these remote lodges to publicize and promote the great fishing, hunting and accommodations, and certainly a portion of the OFAH membership comes from remote tourism. Is there a conflict of interest…..you decide!
A few years ago, hundreds of OFAH members and outdoors people from across the province joined together to give a voice to their disappointment with the OFAH’s compromised position on public access to our natural heritage. We formed OntORA, the Ontario Outdoors Recreational Alliance, Inc. We believe that the remote tourism industry is entitled to make a good profit, but that they must also share our God-given lakes and forests with the public, who foot the bill and deserve the same consideration as out-of-province tourists. Our website is www.ontora.ca.
We deserve what we tolerate, and it’s time to stop tolerating this discrimination.
Mike Boudreau, President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawk Junction, ON.