Billionaire-owned Douglas ranch near Merritt wins appeal barring public from accessing lakes | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Billionaire-owned Douglas ranch near Merritt wins appeal barring public from accessing lakes

Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Douglas Lake Ranch
March 05, 2021 - 2:30 PM

The wealthy U.S. owner of a B.C. Interior cattle ranch has won an appeal blocking the public from accessing its lakes.

Two years after the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club won a lengthy David and Goliath court battle for rights to fish on several Interior lakes surrounded by a private cattle ranch, the B.C. Court of Appeal has overturned the decision.

The decision allows the Douglas Lake Cattle Company to block public access to Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake and stripped the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club of any rights to cross the property to fish in the lakes.

The decision will come as a harsh blow to the club who fought a complex and lengthy battle against the billionaire-owned ranch, which it won in December 2018.

However, B.C. Appeal Court Justice Peter Willcock said the judge made mistakes in the earlier judgement.

"The trial judge, in his epilogue, added his voice to the chorus of those seeking to limit the rights of private property owners," Justice Willcock said in the decision. "(But) in doing so, he was not describing the law but advocating for a right of public access to lakes on private land."

The case goes into an in-depth analysis of whether the roads and trails that give access to the lakes are public property or not and referencing in part an 1895 Crown Grant as evidence.

The appeal court ruled that the public road at issue does not reach the natural boundary of either lake.

In a move likely to frustrate the fishing club, Justice Willcock says the water in the lake is still owned by the public and the ranch does not own the fish. It means that anglers are welcome to fish there if they can get permission from the owner to get there.

"The Club invites us to recognize a right to cross private land where it is necessary to do so to access a lake on land reserved to the Crown for the benefit of the public. In my view, while this argument may attract considerable public support, it has no support in our law," Justice Willcock said. "Unlike other jurisdictions, British Columbia does not have public access legislation."

According to Forbes, the ranch owner, Stanley Kroenke, is worth $8.2 billion and owns the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and Arsenal soccer club in the U.K.

Forbes also said he owns nearly two million acres of ranches across the U.S. and Canada.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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