It could still take years to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, even if it were given the go-ahead today.
That’s according to Parks Canada director of protected areas establishment Kevin McNamee, who spoke at a press conference Tuesday about the release of a report, What We Heard.
“I would estimate negotiating an agreement would take two years. That also affords us the opportunity to work through, in a meaningful way, the kind of issues and challenges that have been identified,” he said.
Boundaries have not yet been defined and Parks Canada said the goal is to have those complete by July. Sarah Boyle, project manager with Parks Canada, said if the park did get established that users shouldn’t expect it to be on the same tourism level as the Banff and Jasper national parks. She expects it could draw an extra 2,000 to 4,000 visitors to the area per year.
The report states that many of the concerns with the proposal were about how the land would be managed and how its use would differ if the land becomes a national park reserve.
Some recommendations outlined how to reconcile differing views, including developing ways to engage the local community, for advice on park issues related to local community matters and next steps. Another recommendation extends the consultation to regional districts and municipalities along with the public on links between the proposed national park reserve and municipal and regional management.
More information and education on First Nations rights and titles is another recommendations, as is clarifying what activities are banned or permitted in a national park reserve.
A recent poll commissioned by the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society showed that 35 per cent of 300 residents asked were strongly opposed to the park, while 27 per cent strongly supported it. McNamee said a public consultation program is the most effective way to develop approaches to address the concerns and issues that residents and stakeholders have.
One particular concern raised at the press conference was cattle grazing rights in the proposed park, as a majority of the land is currently used for cattle grazing.
Boyle said Parks Canada is currently in the process of developing the preliminary phases of what will be the management model for managing cattle if this proposed park does go forward. But she said the model would be anchored in the existing legislation in the Forest and Range Practices Act.
A public information session in Keremeos at the Victory Hall from 4 to 8 p.m. on May 15 and in Penticton at the Shatford Centre on May 16 from noon to 8 p.m.