On April 11, 2020, the Ontario government prohibited camping on Crown land until further notice. That closure, which accounts for about 77% of the land in the province, is the latest in a series of public land access restrictions that will impact recreational hunters and anglers. These closures include boat ramp and public area access restrictions by 65 municipalities, the outright closure of all provincial parks (many of which permit hunting and fishing), and access restrictions implemented by 36 conservation authorities (a full, updated list of public land closures and restrictions in Ontario is available from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters). Though hunting and fishing seasons remain open at this time, restricted access to public land will impact hunters' and anglers' ability to engage in their traditional spring food-gathering activities, particularly if they are unable to easily access public land.
For some communities, particularly in northern Ontario, wild food plays a significant role in the total diet. At a time when many are becoming aware of food supply chains that they never previously paid attention to, the importance of access to high quality wild food takes on special prominence. Indeed, British Columbia recently recognized hunting and fishing as essential services, along with other food cultivation activities. Public agencies are, therefore, working to establish the difficult balance between allowing these traditional activities (and the nutritional, physical, and mental health benefits they provide) and the larger public interest in slowing the spread of COVID-19. How they strike that balance depends on the nature of the population they serve.
Nunavut, for example, has offered $25,000 to each of its three Hunter and Trapper Organizations to encourage provision of food to their communities and combat food insecurity. Most Canadian provinces, however, are taking a conservative approach and, like Ontario, limiting access to public land. Alberta, for example, has restricted all vehicle access to parking and staging areas in its public lands, in an effort to limit possible concentration of people in these areas. British Columbia has closed the entire BC Parks system, including all parks, protected areas, conservancies, recreation areas, and ecological reserves.
These closures reflect the reality that, like in Ontario, the majority of B.C. and Alberta residents do not rely on wild foods. Provinces and conservation authorities are restricting access to public land such as provincial parks and conservation areas because multiple user groups enjoy these spaces, which function as potential nodes for people to group together at campgrounds, parking lots, and shared facilities. Allowing access to crown land to hunt (but not to camp) means that the majority of communities that rely on wild food can still access it. People accessing crown land for a day of hunting are significantly more dispersed than at a campsite in Algonquin Park. Further, it is likely that most people whose diet features significant amounts of wild meat and fish are also located near significant tracts of Crown land.
So long as seasons are open, most hunters and anglers can still take to the field this spring with proper social distancing protocols in place. In Ontario, closure of crown land camping, conservation areas, and provincial parks will predominantly impact hunters and anglers located in Southern Ontario, particularly in urban and suburban areas; individuals without easy access to public land but with easier access to food delivery and other infrastructure to meet their needs.