Anglers recently won a court battle against the owners of Douglas Lake Cattle Company, granting them access to Minnie and Stoney lakes after the ranch blocked access roads. Ed Hendricks
A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision restoring public access to two fishing lakes on land owned by the Douglas Lake Cattle Company has reinvigorated efforts by backcountry users who want the provincial government to enact Right to Roam legislation.
Barry Janyk, the executive director of the B.C. Federation of Mountain Clubs, said he plans to attend the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention next week to lobby the provincial government for changes.
“Across the province, people are being frustrated by gates and closures,” he said. “Just because there’s private land in the front country does not mean it should prevent access to the backcountry.”
‘Right to Roam’ legislation is common in Northern Europe, where several countries allow varying levels of non-motorized access to both public and private lands for recreation.
In a written summary of its position, the federation said it doesn’t want “carte blanche” access to all B.C. lands, recognizing concerns around “safety, environmental stewardship and liability.”
“We’re not asking for what you might see in Scotland, where you can hike through someone’s backyard with clothes on the line,” said Janyk.
But the federation said a “gradual erosion of access … must be addressed.”
A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision against Douglas Lake Cattle Company echoed that sentiment.
In December, Justice Joel Groves ruled that Douglas Lake did not gain control of Minnie and Stoney lakes — traditional fishing places for Indigenous people and local anglers — by purchasing the grazing rights to the land around it, nor was it allowed to close a public road, maintained by the province, to cut off access.
Groves ordered the ranch to pay half of the estimated $300,000 in legal fees incurred by the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club in defending the lawsuit. The province was told to pay the other half for failing to take “any actions to prohibit what was an illegal obstruction of a public road by a corporate entity.”
In an epilogue to the original judgment, the justice mused that the issue of public access “will simply get larger as time passes.
“There is no more land to be created, and there are likely no more lakes to be created. Our province is growing, and the legitimate demands of rural landowners … will no doubt continue to come in conflict with the legitimate actions of citizens who desire to access lakes for recreation, fishing or simple enjoyment.”
Groves noted he had been a B.C. Supreme Court justice for almost 18 years and had never before felt the need to comment on a case “with the hope of urging politicians to act.
“The ownership of lake beds is … intended to be collectively held for the benefit of all citizens of the province. As that is the case, consider doing what other jurisdictions have done and guarantee access to this precious public resource,” he said.
Source: Vancouver Sun