The Highlander’s series on Crown land is a project I’ve been working on for more than a year, since first reporting on firearm use near cottages on Koshlong Lake.
This series digs deeper than that original June 2021 article, and I was motivated by the response it got. “Get over it and go back to your condo in the city,” read one Facebook comment.
“Anyone with half a brain would say no safer place to target shoot than a sandpit,” someone else posted.
If I used Facebook comments to guide my reporting, I’d have switched careers already. But I wanted to know: did I miss something? Was it really just “millionaire cottagers” who were complaining? Were they the only ones worried?
The three primary sources for this series are concerned too. They’ve lived in Haliburton County for decades. They own guns. Wayne Parker and Mike Buss are experienced marksmen who often shoot on Crown land.
Neither they nor Algonquin Highlands mayor Carol Moffatt, also featured in the series, are against firearms, or concerned about far-off gunshots interrupting martini hour.
It’s precisely because of their experience sourcing safe shooting areas, riding ATVs or hunting around the County that they’re urging the province to review whether all general use Crown land areas should still be designated as such.
All three suspect most of the allegedly inappropriate firearm use is from people who hail from outside of the County.
The complaints aren’t about a local hunter sighting in a rifle for deer season: it’s hours of shooting on summer afternoons, skeetshooting, traversing private property and destroying trees with explosives.
I couldn’t find people who shoot in these specific areas to talk to, but they’re not the focus of the story: safe shooting in these areas and other general use Crown land spots is completely legal. The conversation is about something bigger.
It’s about how Haliburton County and Ontario will handle the increased burden of use on our natural areas and in our communities, whether it’s short-term rentals, shorelines, or the capacity of our parking lots.
The Highlands, like many rural areas in Ontario, is experiencing growing pains. I understand how some could perceive the complaints over firearms in particular, or ATVs, as newcomers’ naivety or “millionaires” trying to ruin a way of life, but from what I’ve seen, it’s the large influx of people using Haliburton County as an outdoor playground that’s sparking these conversations. The ones raising questions don’t seem to be advocating for an end to rural traditions such as hunting, enjoying a day out on a boat, or camping on public lands.
They’re long-time community members concerned about how uncontrolled shooting ranges next to homes, over-crowded lakes and the toilet paper, beer cans and human waste left behind on public lands threaten the long-term health of our County.