Area fish and game clubs will take their fight for access to public lands and waters to a province-wide level at next week's B.C. Wildlife Federation annual meeting.
A resolution from Shuswap (Region 3) — which includes Kamloops — calls for a $2 increase in annual federation dues to fund a war chest so local groups can take action where public access has been denied.
"We're hoping, starting at the convention next week, to fight this issue," said Rick McGowan of Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club. "This thing is going on all over B.C. and Canada."
A case in point is Douglas Lake Ranch near Merritt, where anglers have been locked out of Minnie and Stoney lakes. Ranch manager Joe Gardner maintains the lakes are privately stocked and surrounded by private land; the club insists the roads and the lakes are public.
There are no private lakes in B.C. and only four in all of Canada, said McGowan, a retired provincial highways engineer. He surveyed the roads, so he knows they're public.
"What Joe has done, he's just locked a public road and taken control of two public lakes."
The ranch, Canada's largest working cattle operation, considers the anglers trespassers, yet McGowan said it's the ranch that is clearly in the wrong. The level of Stoney Lake was raised illegally, submerging the road, and the ranch has no right to transport fish and deposit them in a public body of water, he said.
Gardiner could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he recently told CBC News that private property rights supersede the anglers' access rights.
The loss of recreational access is by no means an isolated case. Illegally blocked access to Crown land has been an issue with BCWF members for years. McGowan estimates there are 20 or 30 fishing lakes in the Merritt area alone where access is denied.
"Our little club decided, OK, we're going to tackle this issue, but we can't attack 40 at once."
The club is taking legal action, "but obviously it's money," McGowan said.
Douglas Lake Ranch is owned by U.S. billionaire Stan Kroenke, who owns a string of sports franchises and is married to Walmart heiress Alice Walton. According to Forbes magazine, Kroenke has a net worth of $3.2 billion.
McGowan feels the ranch's powerful ownership explains why they've had no support from provincial ministries or the police.
"As Joe Public, we've hit a brick wall … In 20 years, if nobody does anything, our children will not be able to go off the blacktop."
The federation meets in Courtenay April 25-28. Although the BCWF has an existing legal fund, it is felt to be insufficient. The federation recently ran an ad in the magazine Outdoor Edge, seeking donations for the same purpose.