A Merritt angler who’s been part of a fight for recreational access to two lakes on Douglas Lake Ranch is concerned they’ll have bigger fish to fry down the road.
Rick McGowan said he has rejoined efforts through B.C. Wildlife Federation to develop a plan to fight for public access through the courts, not only at Douglas Lake Ranch but all over the province.
The federation met earlier this week in Kamloops, where the executive agreed to a fresh course of action on public access.
McGowan had tried to pass a motion at the BCWF’s annual meeting in the spring to have a $2 membership levy to create a legal fund for public access disputes. The vote was tied, however, so the motion failed.
That riled some members, who felt the vote wasn’t properly counted, so the matter was raised again at a special meeting called by BCWF’s region seven in Kamloops.
“The federation has agreed to create a plan” to set up a fund, McGowan said. That may involve seeking public donations.
He feels Douglas Lake Ranch is the thin end of a wedge with threats to public access increasing in the Interior. He’s concerned the proposed Natural Resource Road Act will curb public access all over the province.
“They’re going to give maintenance of the roads to (private) maintainers,” McGowan said. “Those companies will have to assess liability and their main course of action would be to lock the road. If they have control of the road, they can control the land,” he added.
He questions the need for such legislation.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the proposed act remains a work in progress and the legislation has yet to be drafted.
Its main purpose would be to streamline the governance of roughly 450,000 kilometres of natural resource roads in the province, said Brennan Clarke. However, there are so many stakeholders involved that the initiative has been stalled since 2008.
“Who’s going to pay for and maintain these roads is the big question. That’s the challenge of that.”
One component, the Occupier Liability Act amendments, was hived off and passed in June. That legislation removes resource companies from potential liability surrounding public access so that they will be less inclined to close roads, Clarke said.
“Our position is, we need to keep more of these roads open.”
Douglas Lake Ranch remains an anomaly in terms of public access, he added. When the ranch was first purchased 150 years ago, the sale included lake beds, whereas the Crown retains ownership of most other lake beds in the province.