Shooting on Crown land in Algonquin Highlands raises concerns

A view from a cottage road bordering the Crown land pit at Livingstone Lake.

A privately-conducted firearms safety study claims the Livingstone Lake Crown land area isn’t a safe place for firearm use.

The assessment was completed in 2020 by Mike Buss, who worked at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for 30 years, was a certified Ontario Hunter Education instructor and examiner and helped develop the provincial Hunter Safety Training Manual.

Allegedly dangerous use of uninhabited land, such as multiple Crown land areas in the County, has sparked concern among cottagers who insist the province needs to reassess whether some areas of Crown land are too close to neighbouring properties.

“In my opinion allowing or promoting shooting of firearms at this site presents a potentially dangerous situation, increases the anxiety of adjacent landowners and cottagers and would continue to foster a poor image of otherwise responsible firearms owners,” wrote Buss, in a portion of the report shared with The Highlander.

Buss provided his unofficial review of the spot after multiple Livingstone Lake residents raised concerns about firearms activities at the pit.

Wayne Parker of the Livingstone Lake Association (LLA) said he’s heard numerous complaints from residents who live at the end of the road.

Asking to remain unnamed due to safety concerns, one resident said she confronted someone shooting at a target nearby the road.

“I said that I found it very scary to walk around when shots were so close and he said that it was Crown land and he had a right to shoot there,” she wrote in a 2021 letter to the LLA. The firearms user left the area, but the resident said she found the interaction disconcerting.

Buss said in his report,“I belonged to a registered shooting club for more than 12 years and I can tell you the Provincial Firearm Office would most definitely not certify this location for the discharge of any type of firearm. I too have shot in abandoned gravel pits on Crown land, however, the berms were three to five meters high and there were no roads or dwellings downrange for many kilometers.”

He added that the many uncontrolled walking paths across the pit, along with public ATV access, means there is little control over downrange shooting conditions.

Buss insists the issue is not about disallowing firearms use on Crown land. It’s about discerning what slices of Crown land may not be suitable for target practice or hunting.

There are thousands of acres of Crown land far from residential areas.

More than 87 per cent of Ontario consists of Crown land, including numerous areas in the Highlands, primarily in Algonquin Highlands, Minden Hills and Highlands East.

The area commonly used for target practice at Livingstone Lake is boarded by a ribbon of forest approximately 40-metres thick. On two sides are cottage roads.

According to Constable Mike Melnychuck of the Haliburton Highlands OPP, police have responded to four complaints about firearms use on Crown land in the past year.

Parker agrees with Buss’ assessment of the area’s suitability for target practice. He points to Section 6 of the RCMP Canadian Firearms Safety Training Manual, which states that firearms users should consider, “is anything else in the line of fire, either

in front or beside or behind the target?… Could anything else come suddenly into the line of fire?”

The manual goes on to caution firearms users to “make sure you are welcome and permitted before you shoot anywhere. Do this whether the land belongs to the Crown, to a local club, or a private citizen.”

Parker and Buss both use firearms on Crown land often, but in areas far from residences, with high backstops and no foot or vehicle traffic behind the target.

Other firearms users in the County attend clubs such as the Haliburton County Marksmen Club.

In a letter signed by club officer Brendan Berube, the club said many join to sight rifles in preparation for hunting seasons, or compete in competitive or non-competitive events at their designated range.

“It’s a great venue to meet and share a mutual interest in sport shooting with other firearms enthusiasts. Many new friendships are forged in our community,” Berube wrote.

Widespread issues 

Livingstone Lake is not the only Crown land area that residents say is being used for unsafe target practice.

In a letter presented to County council in

June 2021, Algonquin Highlands mayor Carol Moffatt outlined reports from Scotch Line, Boshkung Lake and, as previously reported in The Highlander, Koshlong Lake.

Residents from Koshlong Lake and Camp Wanakita describe firearms use in the area as disruptive and alarming.

Similar to the Livingstone Lake Crown land reserve, it’s located less than 100 metres from nearby cottages. Cottagers report gunshots disrupt parties, birthdays and lake outings, scaring boaters and kids attending the lake’s camp. 

Since first bringing concerns to County council in 2021, the Koshlong Lake Assocation said there’s been no action taken by the OPP or MNRF to address the frequent shooting near residences. 

The MNRF and OPP confirmed staff and officers attended the area in response to complaints of litter and the transportation of firearms over the road, which is private property.

On several websites such as Reddit, multiple posts pose questions about the suitability of Crown land areas and how to mitigate complaints from “panicked hikers.” One unverified user claims to have been stopped by a nearby landowner who asked them to refrain from shooting on the land. 

“The only effective method to prevent shooting in the pit is to expressly prohibit it,” wrote Parker in a year-end LLA report. “…We also don’t believe that educational signage cautioning shooters to be mindful of their location will be helpful. In fact, the opposite can occur as it is a signal that shooting is sanctioned which can… increase activity.” 

Next week: The County’s response