The Case for a National Park (Part 2)

This month I want to continue the discussion of the benefits of having a National Park established in the South Okanagan –Similkameen.

It doesn’t really matter in some ways whether global warming (better called global climate change) is caused by man’s activities or whether it is solely a natural phenomenon, the fact is that the climate is not the same as it was 50 years ago and certainly is different from what it was 1000 years ago. The climate does seem to be warming and as it does, plants and animals are going to have to adapt to the changes. Most species do so at least in part by moving to new areas – animals do so rather rapidly whereas plants do so over tens or hundreds of years. However in order to move to a new area, both plants and animals need connectivity of suitable areas in which to live. That is their old habitat needs to be at least partially connected to their new habitat. The Okanagan valley is an extremely important corridor connecting the vast dry grasslands of the US Great Basin to the interior dry grasslands of south-central BC. As global warming continues it will be extremely important to keep the Okanagan corridor open for species following the expanding grasslands to the north. A National Park will help preserve the few remaining grasslands here and ensure this critical corridor stays open.

National Parks however do much more than preserve habitat. Most of the National parks I’ve visited across Canada do a fantastic job of interpreting our heritage. Whether it be the past importance of cod-fishing in Newfoundland, the history of cattle ranching and agriculture in the prairie Provinces, or the First Nations traditional way of life all across our country, Parks Canada helps us to understand and keep alive the importance our past. A significant feature of a local National park would be interpretative centers and programs looking at the history of our wonderful Valleys – First Nations, mining, fur trading and cattle ranching all played a significant role in the history of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys and right now there are few interpretive attractions to help residents and visitors understand this history.

Opponents of the proposed Park argue that much of the land that would be included in the Park is already protected under BC Parks or by other means. That is misleading at best. While the LRMP (Land Resource Management Plan) wisely set aside some of the
land as "protected areas" these areas do not have protection in legislation but even more importantly BC Parks is so under-funded that there is no one to enforce the rules. A National Park of the size envisioned in our area would probably have on the order of 7 to 10 full time Rangers, perhaps even more during the summer months. To put this number in perspective BC (province-wide) has just 10 full-time equivalent park ranger positions year round! There is one ranger for every 1.3 million hectares (or about 3.25 million acres) of Park land. That’s an area about equal to 35% of Vancouver Island. Can you imagine effectively patrolling one-third of Vancouver Island by yourself? So much damage was being done by “mud-boggers” around lakes in the “protected areas” of the south Okanagan two years ago that the Provincial Government had to build substantial fences to protect the “protected areas”!

A National Park would also be very good for the local economies of the Okanagan & Similkameen Valleys. A government study released in 2001 showed that for every $1 spent by the BC Provincial Government on Parks and protected areas, more than $10 is returned to local economies through visitor expenditures. A US Government study released in 2006 showed that wildlife watching in the US is a huge economic generator, with more than 1 million jobs and more than $120 billion in industry output associated with wildlife watching. A South Okanagan Similkameen National Park would be a natural (pun intended) tie-in to the Valleys’ existing wine and tourism industries.
Nature Wise