Written By: Geoff Bernando Originally Published in the November/December 1995
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.

 

(Reprinted from the Fall issue of Ontario Fisherman)

As the headline suggests, the first Double Haul will deal with an issue - access to remote lakes in this province. It is already a hot topic in Northern Ontario and one which will gain steam in the years to come.

Essentially, the issue pits resort operators and outfitters - almost exclusively fly-in operations - against local and visiting anglers to determine who gets access to many of the province’s most productive fishing waters.

Currently, through Timber Management Plans, area fly-in operators with an established tradition of fly-in access are usually granted road closures to lakes which have roads coming close to them. Fly-in outposts are rarely owned by the operator but rather are leased for a period of time with conditions of their use spelled out in the land use permit.

The sites are periodically checked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of Health personnel to make sure they meet standards and do not overstep the bounds of their land use rights. The properties are leased because they are on public (Crown) land.

The local area anglers, often organizations in fishing and hunting clubs, oppose this system on the basis that Crown land is public land and therefore all members of the public should have access to it. As far as these anglers are concerned, access to water means road access.

When it comes to fishing in Northern Ontario, I have been fortunate to have experienced fine angling on waters reached by brush road and by fly-in access only. I make this point to clear the air over any perception that I favour one type of fishing over another.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience a first-rate fly-in trip with Air Ivanhoe out of Foleyet, between Chapleau and Timmins. The group I was in included both Americans and Canadians. We flew into a lake within 25 miles of the float plane base and stayed in a spacious, well-equipped cabin on a lake stocked with pike, walleye, perch and whitefish.

Air Ivanhoe runs the lake we were on, as well as nine of their 19 other fly-in only lakes, as catch-and-release lakes. With conservation and resource management being key issues in Ontario today, more and more fly-in operators are incorporating conservation or catch-and-release policies on the waters they serve.

While the main focus of angler concerns over access to remote lakes centers on how fishing will be affected, the actual impacts go well beyond sport fishing alone. At stake is the quality of the outdoor experience for those who enjoy not only fishing, but other activities such as hunting, canoeing, camping, photography and just being in the remote wilderness.

The major question is what type of access should be permitted into the remote areas to prevent them from becoming more easily-accessible options for outdoorsmen.

The major players involved in the resolution of this issue are the MNR, the logging companies, the tourist outfitters, local area fishing clubs and umbrella organizations above them. Also included in this group is you, the outdoor enthusiast.

For logging companies, the main concern is survival. They want competitive, efficient resource extraction and maintenance of their role as a key employer and sustainer of the local economies throughout Northern Ontario.

At the same time, Ontario residents have the right to be assured that in pursuit of these goals, the logging companies are not cutting environmental corners to do it.

Both the logging companies and the MNR have access to Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which provide them with the necessary technology to address complex environmental and business concerns while generating harvest boundaries that all parties can live with.

While living with some noise from trucks and saws may be part of the fly-in experience in some parts of the province in the future, what concerns operators even more is the position some local fishing clubs have taken regarding access to the province’s remote lakes and streams. Some clubs hold the position that the lakes and streams of this province - as well as the Crown land - belong to the public.

The chief means by which access to these waters is gained is through existing forest roads in areas of Crown land.

The MNR is responsible for maintaining 39,000 kilometers of forest roads in Ontario, most of which are in northern areas. Some Ontario fishing clubs want these roads kept open for public use.

But under the current planning process, the public is involved throughout and no plan can pass beyond the draft stage without public participation and approval, therefore, the public does have some control over what roads should remain closed and how they will be used after the resource is extracted.

On the surface, public access to public lands seems reasonable, but what type of access?

Proponents of open access simply mean road access. But if the concerns of all resource users are taken into consideration, this position appears to be biased and somewhat short sighted.

Recent advertisements in some American fishing publications boast that Ontario has 450,000 lakes and streams to explore. With that many water bodies in the province, there is no way anglers and other wilderness users should be fighting for access to a number of small lakes which are presently served by existing tourist outfitters. Anyone willing to fly their own plane, canoe in, or hike in, is perfectly within their rights to do so.

Therefore, the argument that fly-in operators have exclusive access to these lakes is not true.

One would think that with so much additional water, surely recreationalists could find good places to pursue their activities where the access issue is uncontentious.

Herein lies the heart of the issue. It’s no secret why local anglers want access to fly-in lakes - they know fly-in lakes offer the best fishing and they want to get into a back lake easily. And this is precisely why total road access can’t work. This is the unfortunate story of too many waters in Northern Ontario - a mad rush to get in and haul out the biggest fish (and lots of them). When the stocks eventually are depleted, the lake is rejected and eager anglers move on to the next “honey hole”. This mentality arises from the fact no angler has a permanent stake in the lake. Therefore, there is no effort to maintain quality.

It comes as no surprise that many anglers want access to fly-in camps that are carefully maintained to offer superb fishing from year to year. But should they gain road access, there is no way the quality of fishing will be maintained if it remained strictly a fly-in camp. Even if the additional pressure is light, it only takes a single group or two per year to significantly decrease the quality of fishing in any given lake.

And once the roads are opened up, it won’t be just Ontario residents that reap the rewards - American and non-resident Canadians will bring their trailers, 4x4’s, fishing boats, campers, whatever, and park for a week or longer and never contribute to the local economy.

And with the MNR pressed for funds to salary conservation officers, there will be less policing of offenses over a much wider area, should road access be granted.

Most anglers have no problem with providing additional road access to a number of lakes. Having such access caters to a segment of the fishing and hunting fraternity. But Ontario’s north country represents part of the world’s last great truly remote wilderness that has very good servicing. Both residents and non-residents use our fly-in operators to give them peace, solitude, good fishing and relaxation, not to mention safety.

In the 1990’s, we have moved beyond the notion of wilderness use as a right to dispense with how the user wants, to the notion of wilderness as a trust and a valuable resource. These areas represent something special, to be preserved and passed on, in a world whose wilderness areas elsewhere are disappearing.

As something unique, these areas need to be managed for the different types of natural resource users.

The management of the province’s resources is the mandate of the MNR. They need to be front and center in the resolution of these issues. The technology is there to delineate various management, preservation, conservation and open-use areas. With input from all the major players at the planning stage (and updated every 5 years), the process is already in place to provide adequate solutions to the use of Crown Land throughout Northern Ontario.

The question of remote access affects us all. I invite your comments on this issue.

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