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Community Rises Up Against One Man’s Refusal to Pay Heed to Their Concerns

by Leonard Knott

Larry Wood was given 10 minutes to make his deputation to Selwyn Township Council at its last meeting before the municipal election on October 27. He asked for 12 minutes and quickly went to work detailing the concerns of residents around Pigeon Lake about wild rice seeding and harvesting.

With an overflowing council chamber listening quietly, Wood showed slides of Pigeon Lake 10 years ago and again in 2014 demonstrating the effect on the lake since the planting and harvesting of wild rice began. In the earlier slides, the surface of southern Pigeon Lake is clear. In recent pictures, a narrow channel through vast rice beds is shown, created by the cutting of wild rice plants by the props of residents’ boats sailing to and from their properties.

“We are not against the harvesting of wild rice,” Wood who lives on Hawkswood Drive, Ennismore told Council. “We are, however, against the intentional seeding of the lakes and the commercial harvesting of the rice by an individual who is the catalyst for the expansion of the rice fields which are taking over the lake.

“In essence,” he emphasized, “this is a financial gain for one, at the cost of many.”

Who the “one” is became apparent when Wood played a 2012 taped radio interview with James Whetung. In the interview, Whetung states that in waters controlled by the federal government (Pigeon Lake is one such lake), they do not issue permits and have asked him not to plant nor harvest rice in these waters. Whetung told the interviewer that he did not let this stop him. He clearly states that he planted thousands of pounds of seeds to replenish the rice beds.

Next, Wood played an audio recording of the noise made by Whetung’s airboat while harvesting. “We’re forced to listen to this for hours on end, day after day, until he is finished.” He added the noise affects people as far as half a mile inland.

With the packed council chamber clearly behind him, Wood itemized concerns they have about wild rice.

Waterway navigation is drastically reduced. The lake is no longer a venue for recreational activities. Constant clean-up of rice plants, cut by boat props, floating into shore. Unacceptable noise level. “Perhaps most important,” he summed up, “property values are being affected… Over time this will mean a reduction in the township tax base…fewer tourists…could result in some businesses folding, hence less revenue for the township.”

Wood asked if it was right to harvest and sell rice, “which could be infected with Ergot which is fatal to humans if consumed?”

Those protesting against the rice harvesting are going all out to draw attention to the problem. “We met with Trent Severn Waterways Enforcement Division, who will be reviewing our complaint,” noted Wood.

The Enforcement Division is gathering information that will, “hopefully put an end to illegal harvesting of rice,” said Wood.

The protesting residents around Pigeon Lake held meetings with MPP Jeff Leal, MP Dean Del Mastro and Brett Tregunno, Kawartha Conservation.

“During each of these meetings,” Wood told Council, “we were encouraged to write to government agencies or individuals of influence requesting their assistance in finding solutions.”

“Support for The Save Pigeon Lake” initiative has grown very quickly with over 250 people registered ... and (it) grows every day as the word spreads,” he added.

Council was quick to approve a motion by Councillor Donna Ballantyne that, “the correspondence and information provided by Larry Wood related to mechanical wild rice harvesting be received for information, and that the Township of Selwyn send correspondence to the Federal Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq strongly urging that as noted in the 2012 correspondence sent to Mr. Wood from previous Minister, Peter Kent, a wild rice policy be developed… and due regard be given to how mechanical wild rice harvesting and seeding is significantly impacting how residents are able to enjoy our waterways.”

The Council resolution also asked that clarification be provided explaining how wild rice can be defined as “wild” when mechanically harvested and seeded.

The resolution called for the federal and provincial governments to respond by the spring of 2015 well in advance of the next harvesting season. Copies of the Resolution will be sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne, MP Dean Del Mastro, MPP Jeff Leal, Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of Environment, presidents of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and ROMA, the Warden for Trent Severn Waterway Enforcement Division and Larry Wood.

The motion was endorsed unanimously by recorded vote.

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