VICTORIA B.C. – Locked gates on back roads are increasingly restricting access to wild lands in the province, making it harder for outdoors people to go hunting, fishing or hiking. A new bill tabled Monday by Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, would put a stop to that practice.
“British Columbians are increasingly being fenced out of the province’s wild lands. The ability to access and experience nature is a public right, and we must protect it,” says Weaver, who is the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. “Free public access to the outdoors is vital to people’s health and well-being, but it is also vital to the health and well-being of our environment. People protect what they know and love. If we become disconnected from our environment we risk disengaging with the fight for its future.”
In many regions of the province, the only way to access wild Crown lands is via logging roads, public back roads, or across privately owned forests and uncultivated areas. While casual public use of these accessways has not been an issue in the past, there is a growing trend of neighbouring landowners and forestry companies locking people out. Some are building fences and installing locked gates to block access altogether, others are implementing strict schedules or access fees. In extreme cases, British Columbians are getting arrested for trespassing while walking to public lakes they have been fishing for generations.
The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, a non-profit association dedicated to the local preservation and management of habitat and wildlife, for example, has spent years in a legal battle with the owner of the Douglas Lake Ranch over the public right to fish in public lakes..
“The Right to Roam Act aims to address and prevent conflicts like the Douglas Lake Ranch case. Nature in British Columbia should be open to all, not to just the privileged few,” says Weaver.
This Act was built off the existing BC Hunting and Fishing Heritage Act and the Nova Scotia Angling Act. It includes a few additional amendments, made with reference to a UVic Environmental Law Clinic report about enhancing public access to wild lands.
“By allowing people to cross uncultivated wild land to access public lands, rivers, streams, and lakes, the Right to Roam Act aims to re-establish the rights of British Columbians and to use these spaces to fish, hike and enjoy outdoor recreation.”
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