REMOTENESS MATTERS TO MANY
t is certainly no secret that NOTO spends a lot of time dealing with issues around forest access roads and the potential adverse impact of unrestricted use of these roads on remote tourism values. I have often heard it said that this is a conflict between the tourism industry and local anglers and hunters. I think this description is inaccurate and misleading, and working from this understanding may get in the way of finding creative and effective solutions to these long-standing conflicts.
Let me start with a recent example to illustrate this point. Earlier this spring, concern over a minor amendment on the Sudbury Forest that would see approximately 10 km of new access road closed to motorized public access once built, went to issue resolution. Interested parties on both sides of the issue ultimately made their case to the MNR Regional Director for the northeast region. What is worth noting here is the interests who wished to restrict the use of motorized recreational vehicles on this new road. Although there was an affected tourist operator at the table, the most directly affected parties were remote cottagers and other remote recreational users. These groups presented strong arguments in favour of taking steps to preserve the remote nature of the area, including concerns related to fish and wildlife management. These users were not interested in having the area exclusively to themselves, they simply wanted others to access the area in the same way they traditionally had.
The fact that tourist operators are not the only people who care about remoteness comes as no surprise to me. For several years I have been a member of the Provincial Trails Coordinating Committee, and the issue of managing conflict between motorized and non-motorized recreational users has come up repeatedly. These two groups have very different needs and expectations, and careful planning is needed in order to reduce conflict and maximize opportunities.
There is a range of access preferences within most groups who have an interest in crown land. Not all tourism operations are remote, and many anglers and hunters seek out remote fishing and hunting opportunities. When we add cottagers, hikers, snowmobilers and skiers to the mix, the picture becomes even more complex. For some users under some circumstances, increasing motorized access enhances opportunities, while in other cases it reduces them. How do we find a balance?
I think one of our most significant challenges in addressing this issue is the limited toolkit we have been using. On the one hand, we have parks and protected areas, and these areas have procedures in place that allow for management of remoteness. When we get to the vast majority of the crown land in Ontario which is categorized as General Use, we have defaulted to using the only convenient tool at our disposal, the forest management planning process.
In favour of this approach, we have the fact that the FMP process is well defined and provides clear opportunities for public input. Unfortunately, as many have pointed out, forest management planning is not land use planning.
Furthermore, plans tend to be fairly local in nature, detailed down to the location of individual roads, and based on timelines as short as five years. Is this the best or most efficient tool to use to plan for a variety of recreational opportunities on large areas of land well out into the future?
The recent issue resolution decision I referred to earlier identified this concern, as well. We need a planning process that is specific to the issue of remote and road based recreation that is separate from the FMP process.
The same concern was raised in the northwest over the North Kenora Pilot Project. This large area, adjacent to a major wilderness provincial park, has been a significant planning success story, supported by a range of interested parties, from tourism to First Nations. It is worth checking out the website - http://www.trophywaters.com/ to see how this planning initiative has become a marketing brand for the area. However, MNR maintains that its creation through the FMP process does not provide a mechanism to maintain it. How do we create a new mechanism, and can we do it quickly enough to prevent losing a recreational jewel like the North Kenora Pilot Project?
For some time, NOTO has advocated the development of a new planning process to specifically address the management of “remoteness”. We believe such an approach could significantly improve both road-based and remote recreational opportunities, while reducing the cost and conflict associated with dealing with these matters as part of the FMP process. I’m encouraged that the recent issue resolution decision has alluded to the need for such a new approach, and hope we can all get started on it soon. Anyone who hasn’t seen the NOTO position paper on the subject can contact the NOTO office for a copy.
As our society becomes ever more urbanized, the value people place on being able to get away to places that are quiet and remote will only increase. Whether those experiences are accessed by car or by float plane, snowmobile or snowshoes, there will be a variety of people seeking a variety of experiences. Our remote areas continue to shrink, and there aren’t any new ones to move on to. Now is the time to take what we still have, and effectively manage it for future generations.
Doug Reynolds, Executive Director, NOTO
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Fall 2007 Issue