Pending changes in land-use legislation creating concern in some quarters Apprehension maybe misplaced: MNR

There is a potential tempest brewing over the provincial government’s ongoing review of the current provincial parks and conservation reserve legislation that is gradually reaching a boil in some quarters.
According to representatives from the provincial environment ministry, it’s all much ado about nothing, while some members of the angling and hunting community fear it will result in love’s labours lost for the tourism industry.
One of those in the latter camp is Jack Hedman of Fort Frances. Two weeks ago, Hedman—who is the 1st vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and co-chair of the Land Use Access and Trails Committee—wrote a long letter to the editor at the Times outlining his concerns that if the government decides to roll conservation reserves into legislation alongside provincial parks, traditional activities such as hunting, trapping, and fishing will become a thing of the past.
He was particularly concerned about a number of islands in Rainy Lake that are currently open for hunting and fishing.
“We’re really quite concerned that if they bring conservation reserves out from under public lands and into provincial parks, it could have implications here in Fort Frances,” said Hedman in a telephone conversation yesterday.
“There’s a real threat reserves will no longer be under the Public Lands Act,” he added.
Hedman went on to say approximately 12 percent of public lands in Ontario are currently designated as parks or protected areas and if more land is added or redesignated, it could have a major impact on traditional recreational activities—particularly in the north.
Hedman acknowledged the public lands legislation is outdated and due for review, but he has serious misgivings about how it is being done.
“I don’t have a great deal of trust in the political process,” he stressed, pointing to the large number of elections promises by the provincial government that have gone unaddressed.
“I just don’t trust them.”
Terry Quinney, provincial manager of fish and wildlife services for OFAH, shares many of Hedman’s concerns. In fact, he posted an open letter on the organization’s web site, inviting public response. As of yesterday, he says there have been hundreds of inquiries from a number of interested parties.
“We’ve had a lot of phone calls and it’s clear those who use Crown lands are concerned,” noted Quinney from his office in Peterborough.
“We’ve also had letters from municipalities in Northern Ontario,” he added.
Quinney said one of his concerns is the low-key manner in which the province has introduced the proposals. He says very few people were aware of the pending changes in time to have any real input.
“I’m very disappointed there was so little public and media notice,” he remarked.
Another local person who has some misgivings on the idea is Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale. Drysdale, who also sits on the Ontario Provincial Parks board of directors said the proposed changes could fly in the face of an agreement made back in 1999 regarding the public use of Crown land.
That agreement, she said, was the result of a great deal of negotiation and compromise and now she feels pending changes could undermine the efforts of those involved.
“Those negotiations resulted in an agreement that served the province as a whole,” Drysdale explained. “One of the things established was conservation reserves: That was the compromise struck.
“My concern is if conservation reserves were governed by the same legislation as provincial parks, it would be a violation of the original (Lands for Life) deal,” she added.
Drysdale did concede some kind of review was due, since the last time one took place was 50 years ago. She said she is mainly concerned about the process.
“Review is due, but you have to be careful about where we want flexibility and where we want it entrenched,” she stressed. “I don’t think it’s time to panic, but we have to keep an eye on the ball.”
But the man in charge of the review process for the government said the concerns of stakeholders in the north are being taken iinto account and there are no immediate plans to make drastic changes in land-use policy.
Bob Moos is in charge of the protected areas review for the Ministry of Natural Resources. According to him, public response to the review has been positive for the most part.
“It’s (response) been pretty good,” said Moos on Monday from his office in Peterborough. “Some groups had concerns, but environmental groups are in support.”
As to the concerns of hunters and anglers, Moos said their concerns are largely unjustified.
“There are no plans to make (conservation reserves) into provincial parks,” he stressed.
“We’re merely proposing that the minister be able to establish special zones,” Moos added. “We’re not proposing to change the status quo.”
Ginette Albert, senior communications advisor for Environment Minister David Ramsay, said it’s far to early to predict what the outcome of the review will be, and so far, legislation is not yet even on the drawing board.
“It’s too early yet,” said Albert from the minister’s office in Queen’s Park on Monday. “It will be a few months before we see what we get,” she added.
Albert noted the legislation on parks is 50 years old and was due for some tweaking, but she feels some of the concerns are vastly overrated.
“Don’t panic and anticipate something that we don’t know is even going to happen,” she advised.
The lands and forests issues manager for Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO)—formerly known as the Northern Ontario Tourism Operators—also feels it’s much too soon to panic. After reviewing the proposals on the ministry’s web site, he said he feels there is a certain amount of unwarranted panic in the air.
Todd Eastman said his take on the proposal is the new regulations will be aimed at limiting industrial use of conservation preserves and will not effect the kind of activities currently taking place.
“My take on it is the proposal is to address non-industrial uses at the policy and regulation level—not through legislation,” noted Eastman yesterday from his office in North Bay.
“Assuming we’re allowed to continue doing what we’re doing now, then we’re OK with it,” he concluded.