As the proposed South-Okanagan Similkameen national park begins its public consultation phase, project organizers say those opposed to the park can also still provide feedback.
“Parks Canada is committed to undertaking meaningful consultations with partners, stakeholders, local residents, users of the land as well as the broader Canadian public,” said Kevin McNamee, director of the Protected Areas Establishment branch for Parks Canada.
“These consultations will play a critical role in helping to shape the national park reserve concept. So, we encourage any and all respectful comments with respect to the proposal.”
According to the No National Park coalition’s website, there are individuals and organizations who oppose the proposed park but have not been vocal. The page specifically mentions that farmers and ranchers who don’t want the area designated as a national park are “simply working hard at working” and that these people “aren’t known for grand-standing.”
“People can participate by simply indicating they are in support or not in support of a national park reserve, but it is extremely helpful to us and to the process to indicate why yes or why no,” said McNamee. “If we understand more clearly those concerns … we’re in a better position to shape the proposal.”
For ranchers and farmers in the area that are concerned the national park may impact their operations, such as cattle grazing, McNamee said “Parks Canada has been committed to working with the ranching community to ensure that ranching and grazing would continue.”
He noted the organization was aware they had “strong concerns” about the use of Crown land within the proposed park.
“The exact nature of how we would move forward to work with the ranching community with respect to regulations and legislation is yet to be worked out,” said McNamee. “So we will be meeting with the ranching community separately to go over more details. So no decisions have been made yet with respect to how we would legislate and regulate those activities.”
McNamee distinguished that “there are private ranch lands that would not be part of the national park, they would not be expropriated” and the future sales of these lands if the ranchers choose would be “on a willing seller, willing buyer basis.”
“Private lands would not be part of the park. Where we need to have discussions is in regard to their use and tenure to the existing provincial protected areas and the Crown land,” said McNamee.
McNamee said Parks Canada has also heard from other residents concerned that the national park reserve would impact how they currently use the land.
“We are aware of some of the concerns, so we are looking at activities such as all-terrain vehicle use and have indicated that the activity would continue on the roads that transect the national park reserve in accordance with provincial transportation regulations,” said McNamee.
For now, public consultation is being gathered via Parks Canada’s online survey. Sarah Boyle, project manager for the Protected Areas Establishment branch in South Okanagan-Similkameen, said she is currently organizing in-person consultations with larger groups and community members who have shown interest for January.
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