Following public outcry during their June 8 committee of the whole meeting, the Peace River Regional District has withdrawn support of the concept of a treaty land sharing network.
While a letter of support had already been issued and signed by the chair, directors said the concept hasn’t been made clear to the board or the public.
After a series of amendments at their June 8 board meeting, a motion was passed to withdraw support “until Scion Strategies Ltd is able to describe the concept in detail, has provided answers to landowners about the concept, and has held meetings with landowners regarding the idea and demonstrates support from the landowners and interested parties.”
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen said she understands the backlash, noting that the land sharing model makes more sense in Saskatchewan as it was a grassroots driven initiative by landowners to address limited crown land availability, not government.
“I think that it’s important that we acknowledge private landowners’ rights. We also acknowledge that with First Nations as the regional district, that is not in our wheelhouse, it’s not our scope - that falls under the federal, provincial government.” Hansen said.
BC by comparison has greater amounts of crown land with 94 percent available.
Liability remains a huge concern for many, added Hansen, noting not all farmers are comfortable with hunters on their land, nor do residents want to be responsible for risk taken by those driving ATVs and snowmobiles.
“We all hold value in our personal right to own in fee simple and have the right as to who we allow or not allow,” Hansen said.
Area B Director Jordan Kealy said the network idea is a great concept, but noted farmers and landowners already do this at their own discretion.
“That wasn’t feedback in a good way,” said Kealy of the committee of the whole meeting. “It’s not the kind of way we want to communicate and try and bring items forward to help represent our constituents.”
“We do land sharing here on a regular basis, most of the time it’s just direct - person to person, nobody else is involved. I think it’s a great concept, there’s so many different uses for it,” added Kealy. “I just, as we’ve seen, we didn’t get great feedback on that.”
Kealy initially proposed issuing a cease and desist on their letter before being corrected by fellow board directors and PRRD staff.
Area C Director Brad Sperling said the PRRD has no authority to issue a cease and desist, but feels the letter should have been rescinded or altered, noting that the intention penned wasn’t clear enough outside of the board.
“I’ve read it several times, and our discussion and support of this board was for the concept of a voluntary program,” said Sperling. “And nowhere in that letter in plain English does it say that.”
Pouce Coupe Mayor Danielle Veach acknowledged the outcry and said the PRRD needs to regain faith with the public.
“At this point in time I really think that we need to regain that faith with the public who came here,” said Veach. “And the only way to do that is to put this out and really meet with the public, going forward.”
She added that some members of the public are concerned that land sharing could be pushed through without their support due to the letter issued to Dale Bumstead of Scion Strategies Ltd.
“I know Mr. Bumstead stated he’s done nothing with that letter at this point in time. But that letter is still out there and due to a lot of misguided information, many people are definitely feeling that letter is basically giving him the thumbs up to sort of push this through without listening to the public first,” said Veach.
Area E Director Dan Rose agreed the outcry was partly fueled by misinformation, but feels the public are owed another meeting as promised by the PRRD.
“We don’t have the authority to implement or to pull away from this. This was done in good faith, like we do to many organizations as far as recommending discussion about a concept and whether there was any interest in bringing it forward here,” said Rose.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Have a story idea or opinion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org