The legal battle between the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club and U.S. billionaire Stanley Kroenke looks lopsided.
Mr. Kroenke owns Canada's largest working cattle ranch, the Douglas Lake Cattle Co., as well as the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids, St. Louis Rams and holds the most shares in Arsenal, a British soccer team worth £731-million.
The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club owns, well, nothing really – the land that members hunt and fish on belongs to the Crown.
Mr. Kroenke's net worth, according to Forbes, is $5.3-billion (U.S.).
The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club is so poor it is currently holding raffles and potluck dinners in an attempt to raise $25,000 to defend itself against a civil claim brought by Mr. Kroenke's ranch.
Mr. Kroenke's sports teams combined have more than 22 million likes on their Facebook pages.
The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club has 49 Facebook likes.
Despite the vast imbalance between the two parties, the little game club – if it can raise enough money to hire a good lawyer – thinks it has a chance of winning against the ranch, which has gone to the Supreme Court of B.C. seeking damages for alleged trespassing.
The dispute arose when members of the club protested against a ranch policy of locking gates on roads leading to Minnie and Stoney Lakes. The Douglas Lake Cattle Co. has developed those lakes as private sport-fishing destinations, building a lodge that charges $349 per night, plus $195 if you want a fishing guide.
The club claims a public road used to provide free access to Minnie and Stoney Lakes. Fearing that if the Douglas Lake Cattle Co. gets away with locking them out of Minnie and Stoney, up to 20 other lakes could also be put off limits, club members climbed over the gate, walked out on the frozen lake and started fishing. They followed that up by filing a petition with the Supreme Court of B.C. seeking to have the gates unlocked.
Now the Douglas Lake Cattle Co. has filed a civil claim against the club, alleging trespassing, claiming the trout as "domestic animals" and arguing "the public has no right to fish" on the lakes.
The ranch is seeking unspecified damages and a declaration from the courts that the access roads and surrounding lands are private, "including the lake beds of Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake."
In court filings, the Douglas Lake Cattle Co. explains that it spent a lot of money improving the lakes, stocking rainbow trout and raising water levels. And it claims its exclusive angling business "would be ruined if the public were able to fish in the lakes, as the Stoney Lake Fishing Lodge's sport fisher clients would not fish the lakes if others were permitted to engage in catch-and-kill fishing."
Rick McGowan, of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, says members don't want to kill the fish. They just want to maintain the public right to fish in what they claim is a public lake, on a public road.
Mr. McGowan tried to get the B.C. Wildlife Federation to take up the case, but had no luck. He sought support from the B.C. government. Again he drew a blank. Nobody, it seems, wants to take on Mr. Kroenke.
Without funds, without a legion of Facebook friends, the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club should probably have backed off too. But they don't quit easily in Merritt. Instead, the club got some legal help from the West Coast Environmental Law Society, filed a response to the claim – and now it is busy holding meat draws and potlucks so it can hire a top lawyer in Vancouver.
"We definitely want to fight this," Mr. McGowan said.
In a recent club letter, all 120 members were asked to donate $200 each to a legal fund.
"If this goes undefended then access everywhere is in jeopardy of being controlled by the rich," states the letter.
If you think Mr. Kroenke shouldn't be locking up lakes and claiming the land under the water as his, go to the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club website and make a donation. While you are at it, add a few likes to their Facebook page. They need all the friends they can get.
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