Nature Wise: Majority have spoken on South Okanagan national park

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the club.

The MLA for the South Okanagan, Linda Larson, is in hot water again with respect to the proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park.

It all started with an article (Western News, Dec. 28, National park update from MLA Larson) which reported that MLA Larson told the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors that “Parks Canada does not want to talk to us.”

That is definitely not true (as confirmed by both Parks Canada and the B.C. Government) and eventually the B.C. Environment Ministry stepped in and said that some staff level talks had actually been taking place.

A big part of the problem is that MLA Larson personally does not want a national park but because an overwhelming percentage of her constituents do want a national park, she wants to coerce Parks Canada into designating a “national park” in which any and all activities are allowed.

Want to ride your ATV across sensitive grasslands — no problem; my “national park” allows everything.  Hunting, fishing, grazing — no problem because we certainly wouldn’t want conservation of endangered ecosystems to interfere with my god-given right to ride roughshod over everything in creation.

While being adamantly opposed to a national park ever since she was elected to office, like a good politician she wants to take credit (where credit is definitely not due), just in case the park goes ahead. She is quoted in the Western article as saying, “I asked for us to take another look,” (meaning at the proposal for a national park) “This is what I created for myself, a monster.”

In my humble opinion, the only monster created is her own doing because she has adamantly refused to tell a few outspoken constituents that a national park would be a good thing and even if hunting and ATV riding were banned in the park, as they should be, the vast majority of Crown lands (about 85 per cent) in B.C. are still open to these activities.

It is high time that MLA Larson quits caving in to a small minority of residents and admits that the overwhelming majority of her constituents want a national park. It’s as simple as that.

Linda Larson and other park opponents have long argued that B.C.’s system of Protected Areas which covers a significant portion of the area proposed for a national park is quite sufficient to protect those endangered ecosytems. Unfortunately, that is patently not true.

When you enter a Protected Area such as the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area on Mt. Kobau you will see some small signs on the boundary that say “Park Boundary”  because Protected Areas are managed (and I use this word with much trepidation) by B.C. Parks. But, as you know from reading some of my previous columns, B.C. Parks is woefully underfunded and understaffed so virtually no management or protection takes place.

Protected areas are considered by the B.C. government to be conservation lands. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations website says  “the primary purpose of conservation lands is to conserve and manage important habitat for the benefit of regionally or internationally significant fish and wildlife species.”    Their website goes on to say, “however, other compatible activities can sometimes be accommodated (e.g. agriculture, grazing, forestry, mining, utility rights of way, etc.). (emphasis is mine). The ability to allow for a range of resource uses in conservation lands can provide important management flexibility on a site-by-site basis.”

They further say “Typically, most sites have a strong conservation focus. In some instances, this may be primarily because the site is not suitable for resource extraction activities.”

In other words, we will practice conservation but only if there isn’t something else to do like cut down trees or extract gravel or whatever. Doesn’t sound like much “protection” to me.

For another’s perspective on B.C.’s Protected Areas I highly recommend reading David Pitt-Brooke’s new book Crossing Home Ground in which he describes his walk from the headwaters of the Ashnola River near the U.S. Border to Williams Lake. Subtitled A Grassland Odyssey through Southern Interior British Columbia, this is definitely a “must read.”

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the club.