Last week The Bancroft Times spoke with Ben Samann, who had recently purchased 67,235 acres in Hastings County under the business name Land’escapes, and his plans for this vast acreage, which he intends to conserve and let return to its natural state. This week, we speak with Brian McRae, who is the senior advisor, community and partner relations, with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, has had discussions with Samann about the hunt camps on the property and is advocating for their continued presence there, as they have been allowed through leases to hunt there for many decades under the property’s previous owners.
McRae is the senior advisor, community and partner relations with OFAH, which is a grassroots, non-profit, non-governmental, membership based organization formed back in 1928. Its mandate is to support fish and wildlife conservation and time-honoured traditions like fishing and hunting. They boast over 100,000 members and 725 member clubs.
McRae says that he’s had multiple discussions with Samann and is quite aware of the recent land purchase. He has also been corresponding frequently with many of the different hunt camps involved in this situation, which he calls different and unique.
“Normally we wouldn’t get involved when it comes to individual relationships with landowners. That’s just not what OFAH does, but given the sheer size of this, it represents approximately 1200 members and 70 hunt camps with a really rich tradition of hunting in the area and conservation. So that’s kind of why we’re having conversations on it. We wouldn’t get involved if someone was trying to secure a couple of hundred acres,” he says.
McRae says that OFAH is approaching this situation from two angles. First, they don’t want to see anyone displaced, as the hunt camps have been there some 100 years or so, and so they’re advocating for their continued use of the land. Secondly, it is a unique situation because it is private property. Unlike the previous owners who only had an interest in the property for timber, this is not the case with Land’escapes, who want to conserve the property and return it to its natural state.
“So, we’re having these discussions to educate Ben who is not a hunter, he’s an angler and conservationist, and assist the folks that are there hunting and try to provide Ben with as much information as possible,” he says.
Ultimately, McRae says that they want to see hunting continued on this property and have access to this property continue for these hunting camps.
“It’s a tough conversation because we’re not directly involved in it. It’s a private landowner, individual hunting camp kind of discussion. But we’re trying to facilitate as best we can and trying to provide as much information as we can. The ultimate goal is not displacing these folks, getting those folks in there for not only this year but years to come,” he says.
From what McRae understands, new lease agreements have been put out to the hunting camps and negotiations are continuing with the hunt camps right now.
“It’s a new agreement. There are going to be some changes. There always are when there’s a change of ownership really. As for how these negotiations are going, I can’t tell you that. I just don’t know as we’re not involved in that end of things,” he says.
Many of these hunt camps and the individual hunters are OFAH members according to McRae, and he says that if they can help to inform or educate so that hunting is allowed to continue on this land, then he thinks that would be a good thing.
McRae concedes that there has been some concern amongst the hunting camps and a lot of rumours and lack of information that has fueled that concern since Land’escapes acquired the acreage.
“Obviously, we would love to see everyone back there and continue to build that continued long term relationship. I think that’s the end goal and hopefully it gets there for sure,” he says.
McRae says that he gets the sense in his talks with Samann that the latter is very much interested in continuing access to hunting on the land, but he says that time will tell if that continues in the years ahead.
“Ultimately, it is private property, but we hope that the negotiations go well. I think there’s opportunities for both sides and there’s room for negotiations on both sides,” he says.
McRae says that he has been making sure that Samann is aware of all the great benefits associated with hunting and the conservation efforts that these camps have been doing as stewards of the land for many years during their discussions. For example, according to the OFAH website, hunters buy more than 612,000 licences to hunt in Ontario every year which amounts to roughly $28.4 million in sales. Hunters also help with conservation by purchasing multiple hunting and angling licences, of which approximately $70 million goes toward fish and wildlife conservation and management in Ontario, they complete mandatory hunter education courses like biology, hunting ethics, firearms certification and landowner relations, they donate to conservation causes, they participate in community wildlife events, they help maintain the balance between wildlife numbers and habitat and they mentor future generations of hunters in Ontario.
“There’s a rich tradition there and there’s lots of hands on deck [with the hunting camps and their members]. If there’s work to be done, there are good opportunities there, and I hope things go well. Ultimately, we want to see people in there.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times