Resident threatens legal action over McGuire Lake turtles

A Salmon Arm resident is ramping up her crusade to protect painted turtles in McGuire Lake, putting an end to a family fishing program.

Painted turtles are a common sight at McGuire Lake

Painted turtles are a common sight at McGuire Lake

A Salmon Arm resident is ramping up her crusade to protect painted turtles in McGuire Lake, which would effectively put an end to a family fishing program.

Concerned that a number of the lake’s resident painted turtles were hooked as well, Leanne McIvor is now threatening a lawsuit under the Species at Risk Act if the program is not curtailed.

“The very least, I will video the turtles getting hooked and dying for all the world to see (especially the tourists that come to Salmon Arm and the province),” McIvor wrote in an email to the Observer Dec. 7. “I will target the tourists – the world is watching and will no longer accept animal abuse.”

But Mel Arnold, Shuswap regional president with the BC Wildlife Federation, says the program and possible remedies need to be assessed before the program is scrapped.

“The program has worked in many other communities and been a real positive move,” he says, noting McIvor is the only one who reported issues with turtles being hooked. “We’ve had really good feedback from families and people who have been there with their grand kids, and others.”

McIvor first expressed her opposition  to the program last May in a letter to the Observer,  before Ministry of Environment and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFSBC), with the support of city council, stocked the pond with 600 sterile rainbow trout in a one-year trial to provide easily accessible family fishing.

In early October, McIvor resumed her letter-writing campaign, this time to various government and environmental agencies.

“The turtles go after shiny hooks – they are hungry, and one day a kid I talked to caught over 20 turtles,” she wrote. “I have witnessed the turtles getting chased and harassed and any kid you talk to has caught turtles or seen turtles caught.”

But former mayor Marty Bootsma says he discussed the issue with his 14-year-old grandson, who had enjoyed fishing at McGuire Lake last summer.

“According to him, the turtles tend to go after the hook on the surface, close to shore as it is brought in, and very easily avoided,” said Bootsma, noting reeling in slowly appears to be a problem. “He seemed to be of the opinion that any turtles caught were intentional and, at best, a result of carelessness.”

McIvor, meanwhile, took her concerns to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the powerful international lobby group.

This sparked a spate of letters to Salmon Arm council from across the world in early November, some protesting MOE’s proposed remedies, which include moving the dock farther away from both the shore and the turtles.

Other letters recommend that rather than teaching children how to fish, they be taught to respect the outdoors by hiking, wildlife watching and community-based ecosystem restoration projects.

Yet other letters refer to turtles and other sea animals being caught up in nets and fishing line, while some believed council was actually holding a course in fishing.

“There is a lot of junk science out there that really isn’t science, and people tend to look at that because it will tend to create sensationalism around the issue rather than what the issue is,” says Arnold.

He noted officials had no idea turtles taking bait would be an issue and that no one wants to see the turtles harmed.

“But, I don’t think we want to see the program scrapped without looking at it completely from all aspects.”

MOE Fish and Wildlife senior fish biologist Steve Maricle says as well as moving the dock, officials are considering an enhanced ‘basking’ area on the opposite side of McGuire Lake, which is expected to put anglers farther away from the turtles.

As well, he notes, under the mandate of the program, junior anglers are supposed to be supervised by adults, and he plans to have someone onsite to monitor the situation next year.

Arnold, meanwhile, says he hopes the program can continue at McGuire Lake.

“If we could find another location that was easily accessible we might try that,” he says. “But we’re not aware of any in town that are not on private land.”