February 22, 2014 - 2:11 PM
'THIS IS GOING ON IN EVERY COMMUNITY IN B.C. IT'S AN EPIDEMIC'
MERRITT - A fish and game club has the front lines in a battle to retain access to Crown land currently barricaded by wealthy private landowners.
The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club says lakes and streams across the province—and the country—could be lost if action isn't taken. Its first step was to seek help from federal government and provincial ministries and even the RCMP to get Douglas Lake Cattle Company to stop blockading public access to Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake.
Now they are being sued by the cattle company to keep the public out of those areas but they are fighting back with their own counterclaim and will have it resolved by the courts. The club says more is at stake than access to just these lakes.
"We have found out this is going on in every community in B.C.," says spokesperson Rick McGowan. "It's an epidemic."
He says 30 to 40 public lakes have been claimed by rich land owners in the Merritt area alone, and hundreds more throughout the province.
Court documents filed by Douglas Lake Cattle Company deny that the road leading into the lakes is a public road, and says numerous notices, both verbal and in writing, were given to club members requesting they stay off ranch property. Despite the notice, the court documents state that the club members continued to trespass.
The company said in a counterclaim the lakes were not capable of holding a fishery before they came along, detailing millions of dollars they spent enlarging the lakes and regularly stocking them. The company also claims, because they bought the fish in the lake, they are domestic animals and are their property.
The Province of B.C. is also embroiled in the dispute. It denies the land is private property, and disagrees the lake wasn't a fish source.
McGowan says the legal battle they are entering is not simply about Minnie and Stoney lakes, but about all public lakes.
"I can't just take a bucket of fish, dump them in a lake, and call it mine," he says.
McGowan said the club is unanimous about the decision to fight the legal battle.
"This a chance where we can make a difference," McGowan said, "leave our grand kids a little bit of B.C."
The battle isn't cheap however, and with their lawyers seeking $25,000 in the next week or two, the club has turned to the public for help. All the trouble seems worth it to club members.
"This isn't just for us," McGowan said, "It is for B.C., it is for Canada."
Calls to Douglas Lake Cattle Company were not returned.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014