Minister Polak’s letter regarding the B.C. government’s proposal for “enhanced protection” of lands in the South Okanagan (Penticton Western News, Feb. 22, Minister responds to park column) is most notable for what it leaves out in the way of genuine information.
For one thing, it is unconscionable to imply as the letter does that only provincial jurisdiction will ensure “the protection of the South Okanagan’s geographic and cultural values while providing recreation and tourism opportunities.” Most Canadians are well aware that our national parks are preeminent in providing both these aspects of parks along with the high level of financial and human resources required. In contrast, the B.C. government has so drastically reduced funding to all provincial protected areas that their natural and tourism values are in serious danger and the minister did not announce any funding for the proposed conservancy.
The minister’s assertion that the aim is to “ensure these (South Okanagan) lands are protected” rings hollow when one considers that this province has no species-at-risk legislation and its record of protecting, much less restoring, habitats and species is abysmal. By contrast, Parks Canada is prepared to fund such protection and restoration efforts with the federal Species at Risk Act as legislative support.
Since Parks Canada has already said that ranchers and HNZ Top Flight can continue to operate on the land when it is transferred to the agency, I am curious to know what “existing land use commitments” would be excluded from a national park but allowed in a conservancy. Yes, non-native hunting would be prohibited in the latter, but that’s hardly a ‘land use commitment;’ nor is the use of ORVs on public land.
A separately designated and differently managed piece of land between two small, ecologically non-viable, national park areas makes no ecological or recreational/tourism sense. For one, no adequately protected wildlife corridor would connect the three areas which could negate the value of measures adopted in Areas 1 and 3. Visitors would be faced with a confusing, fragmented landscape with varying use regulations. Neighbouring communities would lose out on the considerable economic opportunities from a national park as well as the chance for input on the park through a community advisory board to Parks Canada staff.
Provincial negotiations with Parks Canada need to aim at a single, federally protected area which in the long term will create an ecologically viable and recreationally valuable future for this unique land.