A National Park Reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen? Yes please!

by Josée

At the end of October the Okanagan Nation Alliance, federal government and provincial government made a joint announcement that there was going to be a renewed commitment to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan and Similkameen within 24 months, by 2019!

I was very excited to hear this news, but not everyone was thrilled. Take a drive around the South Okanagan and you’ll see signs along the road that state “No National Park!” is bold red letters. There were also many green “Yes National Park!” signs… that have mysteriously disappeared. The debate is fierce and opinions diverse.

A National Park Reserve for the South Okanagan Similkameen has been in discussion since 2002. That’s 15 years, but national parks aren’t born overnight.

What’s so special about the South Okanagan-Similkameen?

The South Okanagan-Similkameen is one of Canada’s most ecologically diverse regions and one that’s at risk of disappearing entirely. As part of Canada’s only “pocket-desert”, the South Okanagan-Similkameen is home to around 60 federally listed endangered species and is a major corridor for bird and animal migration. With so many National Parks across Canada it’s surprising that none represent and protect this unique area.

National parks are the highest level of protection afforded to our land. – Maayan Kreitzman

What’s with the “No National Park” signs?

Here’s the thing. A new National Park Reserve will create changes for people living in the South Okanagan. It will impact communities, culture and economy. Some people aren’t quite sure what to expect, some are misinformed and others have different priorities.

With all the negative attention on the creation of a National Park you’d think that the majority of people in the area is against it, but the polls suggest otherwise. In 2010, a public opinion study found that 63% of those surveyed were in favour of a national park, 26% were opposed and 7% didn’t know and that the trend is moving towards more people in favour.1

Where would this National Park Reserve be?

Below is a picture of the 2010 park concept. As you can see there are two distinct areas totaling 284 sq. km and consisting of an approximately equal portions of provincial park land, crown land and private land. This 2010 concept is about half the size as the 2006 proposal which received significant backlash from the Syilx/Okanagan people, ranchers, hunters and others.

Who are the Naysayers?

There are definitely groups and individuals that are against the creation of a National Park and sometimes they scream the loudest.

Ranchers have been opposed to the National Park fearing they wouldn’t be able to use the land for grazing; however, the current proposal will allow “low-level non-industrial natural resource uses (e.g. ranching) that are compatible with park management goals.”2

What about the Syilx/Okanagan people? The Okanagan Nation Alliance was initially opposed to the 2006 park concept, but is now supportive of a National Park. They are working closely with Parks Canada to ensure that their voices are being heard and respected. This is something I believe is very important.

Hunters and ATVs? They won’t be permitted to use the National Park (fishing will allowed). However, “of the people self-identified in these groups [hunters and ATV/snowmobile users], 70% and 67% are in favor of the national park.3

Also there are concerns from the local helicopter training facility in Penticton, BC, but the South Okanagan National Park Network has confirmed that the flight school is entitled to continue operating (more than once!)4.

Why I say #YesNationalPark!

Creating a National Park is definitely about protecting and conserving the unique land of the South Okanagan Similkameen, but it’s about more than just that. It’s about building a legacy for the future, for our children and grandchildren. It’s about creating local communities that value the uniqueness of South Okanagan Similkameen and embrace a culture of stewardship. It’s also about creating more opportunities for everyone to enjoy the outdoors.

Will there be economic benefits? Definitely, yes. There will be new permanent jobs and increased tourism. “Based on the averages of other protected areas in British Columbia, the NPR [National Park Reserve] could generate 571 permanent full-time jobs, $37 million in GDP, $25 million in annual labor income, and $49 million in annual visitor spending”.5

A new national park reserve in the South Okanagan would protect one of Canada’s iconic natural and cultural landscapes and provide opportunities to share this inspiring place with Canadians and visitors from around the world – Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Join me in saying #YesNationalPark!

Are you supportive of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Reserve (SOSNPR)? Or against? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please keep comments respectful.

Further Reading:

South Okanagan Similkameen National Park (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)

New National Park Reserve finally underway to protect B.C.’s threatened grasslands (CPAWS – October 27, 2017)

Yes! To a National Park: Okanagan-Similkameen

References

  1. Local Support for a National Park in the Southern Okanagan-Similkameen Public Opinion Study
  2. Ecosystem services in the proposed National Park Reserve for the South Okanagan- Lower Similkameen region
  3. The South Okanagan-Similkameen Park Proposal Through a SES Lens
  4. Yes! To a National Park: Okanagan-Similkameen: FAQ
  5. Ecosystem services in the proposed National Park Reserve for the South Okanagan- Lower Similkameen region

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4 comments

Jeremie Bergeron November 3, 2017 - 3:29 pm

I’m definitely in favour!

Reply
Sasha December 3, 2017 - 11:01 pm

I am definitely in agreement with you that there are diverse opinions about the creation of this park. Support varies greatly, depending on which segment of the population you ask. City dwellers, non-locals, and those who stand to benefit financially seem largely in favor. People like me, who own land that is potentially surrounded by or adjacent to the park, are almost unequivocally against it (I say “potentially” because boundaries have not yet been decided). We are being told by the government that our property values and way of life will not change…yet at the same time, they are providing us with almost zero details about how this is all supposed to happen. In addition, we’ve watched the establishment of other parks like Grasslands in Saskatchewan, and we are well aware that the rights and allowances that are initially agreed to are not necessarily those that will remain in place. The National Parks Act allows the government to make changes as they benefit the park…but there is nothing in writing that protects us or any other area residents (like yourself).
There are a huge number of topics that have not been addressed. Some examples are flood mitigation (Testalinden Creek comes to mind), fire protection inside park boundaries (local FDs may no longer have jurisdiction to respond quickly to fires inside park boundaries as they do now), access to and controls on private properties that are engulfed within park boundaries, subsistence hunters (who rely on the land for their food), mosquito control and stocking of lakes. These are just a *few* of the issues that locals have been asking about…and for which we have received no answers.
Unfortunately, local print and online media have attempted to portray locals as either uneducated, environmentally-insensitive mud boggers, or cattle ranchers. Nothing could be further from the truth – there are people from all walks who live here. For years, we have loved and been stewards of the lands surrounding our home, and we do not care to see tens of thousands of tourists tramping over these sacred hills. I ride my horses all around this area, and I run across relatively few people in the back country. I still don’t understand how marketing sensitive ecosystems as holiday destinations to tourists is preserving the land…yet that is exactly what is in the plans. What other land is going to have to be eaten up to provide hotels or resorts for all these people to stay in and restaurants for them to eat in? I don’t think this area belongs only to me…but at the same time, I’m not sure inviting *everyone* in (potentially including outfitters and other businesses) is beneficial for locals, wildlife or the land. I guess if economics is your only concern…maybe…but it certainly isn’t mine!
The majority of the land that is being considered for inclusion in the park is already protected under provincial jurisdiction. At the moment, area residents are able to enjoy these pristine landscapes for free. If a national park becomes a reality, that will no longer be the case. We will be competing with outside tourists, and we will be paying the federal government – which is quite removed from local issues and the West in general – to do it. A friend of mine who grew up near Banff commented to me recently that the park was for tourists and outfitters…locals tended to stay away. How sad!
So, in closing…as someone who lives right in the centre of it all, I do (indeed!) understand the desire to preserve this area. I’m just not sure a national park is the best way to go about it.
Happy trails! 🙂

Reply
Josée December 5, 2017 - 11:48 am

Thank you Sasha for taking the time to leave on comment on my post. I really do appreciate hearing your thoughts. You’ve definitely brought up some points that I had not considered or heard about before. I definitely agree that lack of clear communication and information has created a lot of confusion for many people. My hope is that everyone can work together, look as all aspects of this decision and make the best choice for our community today and for the years to come. Thanks again for sharing 🙂

Reply
julie November 28, 2018 - 6:11 am

Hi Josee, I totally agree with Sasha… I know it sounds good to have a National Park here, but I don’t think that by bringing more people in these sensitive ecosystem will help saving it… I have been reading many article about National Parks in USA and the big ones like Banff and Toffino in Canada and the long term heavy usage (tourists) of these park put way more pressure on the environment than we can imagine… Just all the garbage the humans bring and leave in the nature is a simple exemple… plus all the infrastructures that will be required to make these natural beauties into a “Park” = destruction… I am all about saving our planet and we are living in a very unique place in Canada that for sure deserve to be “saved”, but this idea of a National Park is all about money… not conservation…
I think by educating our child and our friends, by going out and about, exploring with kids , staying on trails, is the way here to go. National Parks is a great idea but not here and not made by some bureaucrats siting in Ottawa.

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