South Okanagan grasslands at Chopaka.

South Okanagan grasslands at Chopaka.

South Okanagan national park update from MLA Larson

A report detailing the province’s efforts to establish conservation areas and parks in the South Okanagan and Similkameen coming.

A report detailing the province’s efforts to establish conservation areas and parks in the South Okanagan and Similkameen is expected by end of January.

Regional District Okanagan Similkameen directors heard an update on the National Park debate from MLA Linda Larson at their meeting last week.

“It’s (the establishment of a national park) not off the table but Parks Canada does not want to talk to us,” Larson said frankly during her delegation.

Read more: National park info to be released in early spring

Larson said the province heard loud and clear from area residents that no matter what was developed, a National Park or several provincial parks, it was important that the land continue to be used for purposes including ranching, hunting and fishing and that the helicopter school in Penticton still be able to operate.

In discussions with First Nations the same sentiments have been echoed that the land must still be usable for hunting and fishing and sacred areas be respected.

“Parks Canada is not coming to the table on those kinds of things,” she said, adding, “They will not allow those things to continue. The province made a commitment to people that those things will continue.”

Although progress is stalled with a federal conservation program in the area, Larson said the province is committed to coming up with a plan that encompasses residents’ wants.

“I’ve been told there will be a firm solution and resolution by the end of January so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We’ve been at this a long time,” she said.

The debate on developing a National Park in the South Okanagan has been strolling its way through different levels of government for more than a decade.

The province closed the issue in 2011 citing lack of interest from the public, but Larson said she heard from local groups that their was still an interest and reopened it.

“I asked for us to take another look. This is what I created for myself, a monster.”

Read more: Nature Wise: The person who kiboshed the national park

In mid-August 2015 an intentions paper was released by the province detailing several different park options including Crown, private and First Nations land throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen.

Three distinct areas were outlined.

There were two large areas proposed to be considered for a national park including lands west of Osoyoos and south of Highway 3 to the U.S. Likewise, part of the White Lake basin and extending down past Willowbrook, west of Highway 97, is also being put forward for national park status. Between them, the two cover several protected areas, including the White Lake Grasslands, Spotted Lake, the Osoyoos Desert Centre and the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area sites of East and West Chopaka.

A third area, covering west of Oliver towards Cawston, and north of Highway 3 to the southern border of the White Lake Grasslands, is being recommended as a conservancy under the B.C. Park Act.

Larson said she did not know all the details about the direction the province will take on the issue, but she said there is great interest in working with First Nations to establish parks and cultural centres in locations throughout the region.