Province drops support for national park

Environment Minister Terry Lake says the province is not convinced there is enough local support to move forward with the proposal

The province of B.C. no longer supports designation of a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

“The province is not convinced there is enough local support to move forward with this proposal at this time,” Environment Minister Terry Lake wrote Dec. 21 to Ken Sward, president, B.C. Wildlife Federation, Okanagan Region.

However, Parks Canada intends to continue to work with First Nations and with the local ranching families who would be impacted by the park, says Bruno Delesalle, project manager for the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen for Parks Canada.

“It would be a living legacy for future generations,” he commented.

However, he agreed it is important that local residents approve of the initiative, and he said there are both critics and supporters at present.

The BCWF opposed the proposal, in part because no hunting is permitted in national parks and an additional licence for an additional fee is required for fishing in national parks.

“The Land and Resource Management Plan already recommended certain lands in that area be set aside to be protected, yet the federal government didn’t even seem to realize that existed,” said Bill Bosch, vice-president of the BCWF.

“I think most of the people who live in the area oppose the proposal and there never was a real figure of what it would cost to acquire First Nations and private land to create the park,” he added.

He said he didn’t feel adequate research had been done with regard to the benefit of declaring a large area as a national park in the South Okanagan.

Since 2004, Parks Canada and the province have been exploring the possibility of creating a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen.

Former Senator Ross Fitzpatrick of Kelowna was a strong supporter of the proposal, but he could not be reached to comment on the province’s decision.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the two governments in 2003 to co-operate in assessing the feasibility of establishing such a park.

It is one of the country’s richest areas of natural biodiversity and includes many rare and at-risk species, according to proponents.

One of the groups who support the proposal is the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club. Past-president Don Guild, who also represents parks and protected areas for B.C. Nature, said much of the antelope brush habitat in that region has already been transformed into vineyard, and protection is needed for the rest or we will lose entire species.

For instance, the Behr’s hairstreak butterfly relies on antelope brush, he noted.

In his letter to the BCWF, which was copied to Premier Christy Clark, Lake said, “The province recognizes the important conservation values in the South Okanagan area, including some of the most ecologically valuable grasslands in B.C.”

He said the feasibility study completed determined a national park reserve was feasible and there was some support, but he said it also recognized there was a large contingent of people opposed to the initiative.

Delesalle said the federal government does need the partnership of the province to continue the initiative, and he said, “We will continue to work in collaboration with the province.”

As yet, no detailed negotiations have begun, but he said an ambitious effort is underway to find common ground with First Nations people in the area to preserve what is an “important landscape.”