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Letter: Minister responds to park column

I would like to provide some facts about the proposal for protecting lands in the South Okanagan.

Regarding Bob Handfield’s Penticton Western News, Feb. 13 column, Nature Wise: Cynicism regarding minister’s park announcement, I would like to provide some facts for your readers about the proposal for protecting lands in the South Okanagan.

The provincial government has been clear that the 2010 Parks Canada proposal for a single national park is not up for reconsideration because we want to ensure the protection of the South Okanagan’s geographic and cultural values, while providing recreation and tourism opportunities. This was clearly reflected in the Intentions Paper that was issued in August 2015.

During consultation we heard concerns about the need to preserve these lands, and we have put significant effort into our proposal to ensure these lands are protected, while respecting existing land use commitments.

The provincial proposal considers protecting concept Area 2 as a conservancy. A conservancy is not, as was asserted, a “status even lower than a provincial park.” Conservancy designation, like a Class A park, prohibits commercial logging, mining and hydroelectric power generation while also recognizing the importance of the area to First Nations for social, ceremonial and cultural uses.

Concept areas 1 and 3 are considered for possible inclusion in a South Okanagan National Park Reserve (NPR) and the Province looks forward to future discussions with the federal government with respect to these specific areas as candidate sites for NPR designation.

The proposal combines provincial and federal designations to arrive at a solution that may better meet varying interests in the region.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Okanagan Nation communities to develop further details of this enhanced protection initiative for the South Okanagan.

As for the timing of our announcement, Friday Jan. 27 was the only day the three Okanagan Nation communities, MLA Larson and I were all able to attend.

Mary Polak

Minister of Environment