The Case for a National Park - Part 1

By now most of you know that Parks Canada has been conducting a study into the feasibility of forming a National Park in the South Okanagan and Similkameen area. This study has been going on for almost seven years, much longer than anyone originally anticipated. This month I want to touch on a few of the issues involved although space prohibits an exhaustive look at the issues.

The south Okanagan - Similkameen region hosts more endangered species than any other region in Canada so if science and the conservation of unique species of plants and animals were the only issue, the Park would have been a foregone conclusion years ago. But of course there are many competing constituencies who want a say in whether a Park goes ahead. People who burn firewood are concerned they will lose their source of fuel; First Nations people are concerned they will have to give up their traditional activities; hunters are worried they won’t be able to hunt as freely as now and many others are concerned they will have to pay for access to land that is now free. Opponents have gone so far as to argue that Highway 3 between Osoyoos and Cawston would have a toll imposed. I’ve heard orchardists say they don’t want to lose their land to a Park. Other Park opponents say they just want things to stay as they are. And some argue that most of the land being proposed is already protected and needs no further protection. Some of these things are true but many are misconceptions or half-truths, either propagated through lack of the facts or purposely misconstrued to oppose the park.

There are three things we know for absolute certainty about Parks Canada and the proposed South Okanagan - Similkameen National Park. Firstly, the Federal legislation under which Parks Canada operates expressly prohibits Parks Canada from expropriating land for a Park so no one is going to have their land included in the Park unless they specifically want to sell their holdings. Secondly, the enabling legislation for Parks Canada specifically allows First Nations to continue with their traditional activities on Park land so they need not worry about losing access for gathering, hunting, etc. The third thing we know is that in life nothing ever stays the same – populations grow, urban areas expand, newcomers move in and build homes, etc, etc. Whether a Park comes to be or not, the status quo is guaranteed to change. The Okanagan of today looks nothing like the Okanagan of 30 years ago and will look nothing like the Okanagan of 30 years hence. As ranchettes and suburbia creep over the hillsides, wood gathering, ATV riding and hunting will be restricted, Park or no Park.

I’ve visited more than 15 National Parks across Canada in the past few years and a number of those do not charge entry fees. Fees are generally charged only where a Park has some additional infrastructure such as camp grounds, interpretative centres, museums, etc. Examples of Parks without entry fees are Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in BC and Kluane National Park in the Yukon. It is highly unlikely that a Park here would immediately impose entry fees and certainly there would be no fee charged to drive Highway 3 from Osoyoos to Keremeos through a Park just as there is no fee to drive through Banff NP or Glacier NP.

Nature Wise