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Willow Creek council discusses land owner legal protection in lost hunter cases

LAWRENCE GLEASON – GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
People looking to hunt on private land in the MD of Willow Creek may get the simple answer, no, and the reason is just as simple — legal liability.
But for more than two decades, for certain, there hasn’t been an MD of Willow Creek land owner billed for a lost hunter, according to chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti.
Coun. Glen Alm, a rancher, expressed his concern land owners may not be protected from being billed for search-and-rescue efforts if local firefighters are needed to find a lost hunter on their land.
“If we let a hunter onto our land and he gets lost and we have to go find him, are we billed for it?” Alm asked Vizzutti, during the Oct. 12 meeting.
“I don’t remember, in the 21 years I’ve been here, for any land owner being billed for a lost hunter,” Vizzutti said.
“If Cindy the hunter gets lost on Glen Alm’s farm and they have to find me, I would get the bill,” Vizzutti added. “If I don’t pay it, that bill would come to council.”
During that follow-up council meeting the elected councillors would then decide who gets the bill. Vizzutti added the municipal district “has eaten quite a few” bills like that.
Some equipment used by firefighters is billed out at $300 per hour and more than one unit may be needed in a search and rescue effort.
MD of Willow Creek Fire Chief Travis Coleman said some land owners have had him sign agreement forms when he goes hunting on private land.
Vizzutti said those forms give permission for the hunter to hunt on those private lands, but may not cover the land owner fully.
“No one can guarantee 100 per cent freedom from liability,” Vizzutti said. “Those forms just give clarification of what happens if Joe Hunter from Calgary goes hunting on his land and gets hurt or gets lost.”
Vizzutti said there was an incident, years ago, where a Calgary resident was lost and accessed Pine Coulee Reservoir through private land.
The land owner was never bothered, Vizzutti said, and all dealings were with the Calgary visitor.
Coun. John Kroetsch asked if land owner liability insurance would protect the land owner in such cases.
Vizzutti said she was not aware of such insurance being provided.
“If Fred and Martha Hunter is given permission to hunt on your land and they flip their quad, they may sue you for not being warned,” Vizzutti said, adding years ago suing a land owner in such a circumstance would not have been likely, but times have changed.
Vizzutti suggested land owners could ask hunters to carry insurance that would cover the hunters if they were injured or lost on the land owner’s property so the land owner is protected.

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