By Cheryl Norrad
Local residents of Southwest Miramichi near Boiestown say bold signs and video surveillance placed by J.D. Irving Ltd. (JDI), claiming private property at the entry of traditional hunting and fishing grounds north of Holtville make them feel intimidated, especially since those grounds include Crown land the residents have a right to access.
"I don't think too much of it," said Bev Norrad, a native of the area who has spent a lifetime on the river and in the forests of the Southwest Miramichi. "The signs give an impression they (JDI) own it all when they don't, and that the locals should be kept out," he said.
According to Department of Natural Resources (DNR) official Timothy Houlahan, who oversees Crown lands on the Southwest Miramichi, JDI purchased private 'freehold' land from pulp and paper manufacturer Bowater around 2004. DNR boundary charts indicate this land is located just northwest of Holtville in York County. DNR records also show JDI was granted Crown license #6 by the province in 1982 which abuts the freehold land just across the line in Northumberland County.
Crown land maps and aerial photographs gathered from DNR and Service New Brunswick show the provincial access road to the traditional hunting and fishing grounds runs north from Holtville exactly on the county line between York and Northumberland. It then swings left into York County onto the JDI freehold land where, after about half a kilometer, McKeil Gate is located with the signage and video camera that upsets locals.
A few kilometers past McKeil Gate, the road winds onto Crown land license #6, eventually turning onto JDI private property. There is nothing posted by JDI or the province indicating the Crown land is open to public usage.
Kenton Kinney, Manager of Land Planning Crown Lands with DNR, said denoting Crown land is not something the department has ever done in terms of ownership.
"There is no capacity to do so," he said.
There is also no onus on JDI as the private landowner to notify the public of the Crown land that abuts the freehold property. The only thing the company is required to do to satisfy DNR regulations is maintain the portion of road that runs through Crown license #6 because JDI trucks use it for logging operations.
Although the numerous signs and video camera at McKeil Gate give the impression JDI owns all the land in the area, only the private freehold land in York County is owned by JDI. The company doesn't own the land on Crown license #6 in Northumberland County. Houlahan said when a timber company is granted a Crown license, it only makes the company a 'licensee' of the land from the province, not an owner.
"In no way, shape or form do they (licensee) own it...the taxpayers of New Brunswick own it," he said.
Shortly after JDI obtained the lands, the signs and camera went up where there were none before. With the previous owner, Bowater, once the public paid a small fee to access the land upon entry at McKeil Gate, they could hunt and fish virtually wherever they wanted on the private and Crown land without feeling uncomfortable. It was a sort of gentlemen's agreement where each side trusted the other in reasonable use of the land. Some locals still pay at the gate to access the Crown land for hunting and fishing, but they say they feel intimidated by the JDI signs and surveillance.
The Purple Violet Press contacted JDI communications manager, Mary Keith, who stated she would look into the matter and reply. However, there was no response by story deadline.
This false impression of full ownership also insults many locals, but they fear speaking out will lead to reprisals from the lumber giant such as being barred from going through McKeil Gate, leaving them no access at all to those fishing and hunting grounds their families have enjoyed for generations. Many of them also work for JDI and are concerned for their livelihoods. To them a way of life is seemingly under threat by a large multi-national corporation. Yet they feel powerless to do anything about it. Norrad, retired with no livelihood to lose, spoke out because he felt it important, but expects to be barred for doing so.
Post script: Numerous francophone readers of the Purple Violet Press have voiced their annoyance with the JDI bilingual sign regarding the active logging road. They report several of the French words are incorrectly translated.