Ottawa remains silent on park plan

Supporters still hold out hope for a national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen

Dick Cannings of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club photographs some flora during a tour of the proposed national park in the Southern Interior in this file photo.

The federal government is remaining tight lipped about its plans for a national park in the Southern Interior.

Neither Parks Canada nor federal Environment Minister Peter Kent have yet to comment on B.C.’s decision not to support the concept at this time.

One federal government official did say although the issue is very sensitive, a decision could come soon.

Not enough public support from people living in the area of the proposed park was provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake’s reason for shelving the project (Western News, Jan. 13).

For the national park to become a reality it must have the support and agreement of the province.

Parks Canada still has the option of continuing and maybe scaling back the work, or abandoning altogether the efforts of nearly a decade.

Not surprisingly there were mixed reactions to Lake’s comments from those on both sides of the issue.

Longtime supporter Dick Cannings of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club feels hope still exists for a park.

“I’m surprised and disappointed, but of course they (Parks Canada) should go ahead,” said Cannings, Tuesday. “It’s been eight years and Parks Canada was finally hammering out agreements with the ranching industry, First Nations, everything seemed to be falling into place when this was dropped. That’s why it was a surprise.

“We’ve taken so long to get here, we’re so close, and abandoning the idea now I think is just foolhardy.”

Having spoken in person with the provincial minister, Cannings does not believe Lake has the correct take on the level of support locally.

“I really don’t know why the decision was made, but the only answer I can come up with in my mind is that  they (province) have chosen to listen to a small minority of their constituents who are being very loud in their opposition,” he said. “The people who are objecting to it, the hunters, the ATV users, they have the whole valley to play in and this would just be a minor inconvenience to them.

“I think they are missing a huge opportunity here. Everybody else wants it, all the businesses in the Valley want it, the public wants it.”

Cannings also pointed to what he described as the only scientific poll that has been done in which two-thirds of respondents were in support and a quarter opposed, with the remainder undecided.

Failing to move ahead on the plan within the next couple years could also make it impractical to do so at a later date, he added.

Meanwhile Greg Norton of the Grassland Park Review Coalition is not about to chalk up a victory for the No side just yet.

“Of course we’re thrilled, but I’ve had too much experience with this parks outfit (Parks Canada) that until I see it in writing from a greater authority…,” said Norton. “I’m just really glad there’s some government (provincial) somewhere that took a good, serious, sober look at this.

“If they (Parks Canada) would have listened to some of these issues we’ve been raising since day one, they would have determined a long time ago this was not a good candidate area. It just doesn’t fit, never did, never will.”

The coalition member feels because there is little hope of the project going ahead to completion, additional spending should cease immediately.

“We’re getting into the millions and millions of dollars here and if Parks Canada just sits back and keeps going with it, I think it would be a real travesty and totally irresponsible,” said Norton.

However, Doreen Olson of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network disagreed, pointing out all sides should wait until the current process is complete before deciding.

“If it takes 20 years, it does, but we’re losing land as we wait,” she said. “What we need is something for the future and we obviously haven’t shown him (Lake) what the support out there is, so we’re just going to have to demonstrate to him there is a majority who want it.”

 

Those favouring increased protected regions did get some good news recently with the announcement The Nature Trust of B.C. has secured an 809-hectare area of grassland near Twin Lakes. The $3.5 million deal to be finalized in February boosts the organization’s protected area in the South Okanagan to more than 2,000 hectares.

 

 

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