General public will not be allowed to hunt on Strawberry Island

MANITOULIN—Hunting on Strawberry Island will soon be closed to the general public, Ontario Parks has stated.

“With the Strawberry Island Park being a nature reserve park, there is no hunting, but aboriginal and Treaty rights do apply,” stated Will Kershaw, senior management planner for Ontario Parks, in an interview last week. “So there will be no hunting among the general public, but I expect some will hunting take place through First Nations people.”

“There may have been gentlemen’s agreements in the past, but when we asked, the previous owner of the property indicated they had not allowed for hunting,” said Mr. Kershaw.

“What we want to do is put together a management plan for the Strawberry Island and Queen Mum Parks on Manitoulin, and amending the plan for Misery Bay,” Mr. Kershaw continued. “These plans will tell us what can be done over the next 20 years and we are planning to meet the general public next summer in a pre-consultation with a preliminary plan in hand. The idea is to meet next summer and lay out the preliminary management plan for all three and get comments from the public on the plans. Our best approach is to come up with something preliminary in management plan, which takes in the parks’ policies already in place, and look at what makes sense for each park in question.”

Mr. Kershaw met in the late fall with a group of North Channel Drive (located just south of Little Current) residents concerning the Strawberry Island Park. “I explained this is a property that was bought in partnership with the NCC (Nature Conservancy of Canada) at the east end of Manitoulin Island,” Mr. Kershaw said. “It totals over 1,000 hectares, with 25 hectares around the shoreline. It has provincially significant wetland areas, alvars inland, which present a grassland-type look, and hardwood forests. It’s a mix with a lot of variety.”

“We had received a call from a person living on the shoreline of Strawberry Island with a lot of knowledge about the island,” said Mr. Kershaw. “Ryan Gardner, parks superintendent, was not available to join us, but there were a total of 15 people at the meeting and we had good discussions.”

“What we are working on is doing a management plan for all the parks and amend the plan for Misery Bay, which has been expanded by 251 hectares,” said Mr. Kershaw.

“We’ve talked to the NCC and they had a history of the previous landowner of Strawberry Island,” continued Mr. Kershaw. “The NCC bought the property in 2002 and sold it to the Crown in 2008. We, for instance, knew there were snowmobile trails at the north end of the island, and this will continue,” said Mr. Kershaw, “but we didn’t know there are cross-country trails on the island, or that people portage at the south end of the island when the weather is bad.” Fishing is to continue as well, he said.

“And we learned there is one person who leases the lighthouse on the island from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans,” continued Mr. Kershaw. “The lighthouse became automated three decades ago. We own 20 hectares and we want to add this property to the park although it hasn’t taken place yet—the federal government still owns the property.”

“Another question that came up from a guest at the meeting is if hunting would be allowed,” said Mr. Kershaw. “As it is a nature reserve park hunting is not allowed, but is open to First Nations, and we expect they will want this to continue. So will hunting and trapping take place on the island? At this point I would say probably.”

“All of this is exploration for us; we’ve been meeting with the neighbours and people who have knowledge of the parks because we’re the new kids on the block,” said Mr. Kershaw.

For Misery Bay Park, “we have to amend the plan because 251 hectares of property have been added to it (with donations having been made of property on the north and west side of the park, and a small area on the south side of the park having been purchased).” The first plan was written in 1996, he said.

As for the Queen Mother Mnidoo M’Nising (Queen Mum Park), “it is a natural environmental class park and is different from the other two,” continued Mr. Kershaw. “In 2013 we had four different meetings with advisory groups. The Queen Mum Park is 6,530 hectares in size, parks with significant big rockland alvars, while the Strawberry Island has grassland alvars.”

With the Queen Mum Park designated as a natural environmental class park, and hunting traditionally allowed in the past, hunting has been recognized as a historical use for the park and will continue, as will snowmobiling, said Mr. Kershaw. However, “I expect when we talk to members of the public in the area we will be talking about this issue. Last summer we had posted boundary signs on Burnt Island Road and Dormy Road indicating authorized vehicles only were permitted, along with hiking. But no ATVs.”

“Hunting had traditionally been allowed and ATVs could be used, and from 1999 there had been no damage done to the park property,” he continued. “It has only been since 2003-2004 that damage with ATVs has occurred, and Belanger Bay and Dormy have sensitive dunes and beaches and there has been some damage to some of the places the property was bought to protect. And there has been some vandalizing of the signs.”

“We will have to rethink the signage when we put them up again in the summer,” said Mr. Kershaw. “We have talked to MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) conservation officers and the OPP. The use of ATVs has been allowed, except in the times when growing season occurs and hunters have always complied. But now in recent years there has been signs vandalized and damage done to some of the property at times. We will be including this in our plan and talking to the local residents for their input on this issue.”