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Ranchers resist expanding public roaming rights


KAMLOOPS – The Right to Roam Act introduced by BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has BC ranchers and rural property owners concerned, especially in the wake of the recent BC election.

“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,” Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, said in a February 2017 press release.

While the bill died with the last session of the legislature and must be reintroduced in a future session, ranchers aren’t resting easy.

“This creates a lot of concerns. The proposed act is written so broadly, it would open up access to private land, especially uncultivated range land,” says BC Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. “Biosecurity is important to ranchers – to protect the land and livestock from the introduction of weeds and disease.”

Bill M-223 was based on similar legislation in the UK and other jurisdictions. Its stated claim is to give any resident of the province “the right to hunt, fish and roam in accordance with the law.” It specifically allows “access by foot along the banks of any river, stream or lake, upon and across any uncultivated lands and Crown lands, whether or not the rights to that land have been leased.”

This is similar to long-standing

conventions in the UK, where the public is free to roam for recreation and exercise.

Intrusion on privacy

“It would create an intrusion on our privacy,” says woodlot owner Fred Marshall of Midway. “Our lifelong dream has been to own and manage private land and to do so in an exemplary manner for the public good, but to have quiet enjoyment of our land without unrestricted public access. We are living that dream; however, passing of the proposed legislation would turn our dream into a nightmare.”  

Ranchers and farmers here in BC and in areas where a right to roam already exists have raised concerns about gates being left open, fire risk, vandalism, theft, personal safety, disruption to work routines and farm activities. UK livestock producers have had problems with dogs “worrying” or chasing livestock. Sheep producers have had significant losses due to dogs, stressing the importance of keeping dogs on leads.

However, with cattle, dogs can be a target, causing injury to the dog and even the owner. Loss of stock through abortions, injury or attacks as well as transmission of worms from dogs have had Scotland’s National Farmers Union asking that the 2003 Act guaranteeing public access rights to private land be reviewed. Damage to crops and cumulative impacts from a lack of public facilities along footpaths also rank among the concerns.

The spreading of invasive weeds like tansy ragwort, which can be carried on clothing and dog fur, is a real concern.

Recent knowledge in disease transmission, especially since the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England, coupled with increased worldwide tourism, has resulted in the adoption of biosecurity standards by provincial and federal governments and the implementation of biosecurity protocols by many farms. The measures include restricting visitors to farms who have travelled outside Canada and keeping a log of farm visitors, as well as restricting access to certain parts of a farm. During the UK foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, public foot paths were closed because of the biosecurity risk.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) advises travellers who have visited a country where foot-and-mouth or other serious diseases exist to avoid contact with animals for at least two weeks after returning to Canada. CFIA warns that diseases and pests can be spread by direct contact and by indirect contact through contaminated soil, equipment, clothing and footwear.

National Farmers Union Cymru in Wales launched a campaign to oppose open access to land because of its impact on farming and the belief that there is plenty of land currently available for the public to access. In Wales, national parks cover 20% of the land. This exceeds England and Scotland, which have less than 10% and 7% of their area, respectively, designated as national parks. The extra burden and cost to the farmers anticipated from increased public access were among the reasons why farmers urged the Welsh government to enhance public access to its existing public parks.

BC has the third largest park system in North America, after the national parks systems in Canada and the US. Moreover, 94% of BC is Crown land. There are more than 1,000 protected areas covering 14 million hectares, or 14% of the province. There are seven national parks and park reserves in BC. There are also regional and municipal parks. Many regional districts have park acquisition programs through the taxation and subdivision of properties. Allowed activities in BC parks range from hiking, off-leash dog runs, mountain biking, freshwater fishing, canoeing and hiking.

In contrast, the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) covers 4.7 million hectares, or approximately 5% of the province.

“At a time when the public are more and more demanding of how we raise our livestock, we need to protect our stock from unnecessary risk. People travel all over the world where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, adding to the risk,” says Boon.

Vol.103 Issue 6
JUNE 2017

CLBC April 2017 cover CLBC June 2017 Headlines