Analysis: Anticipated B.C. announcement would begin process of creating national park

By on September 26, 2017

George Heyman, NDP environment minister, indicated when he was in opposition that he didn’t support the former Liberal government’s “patchwork quilt approach” to a national park reserve. He hasn’t yet announced what the new government will do, but an announcement could come soon and it could mean a larger park. (Joshua Berson photo)

The news has been quiet on the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan since before the May election, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

Officials have been extremely tight-lipped, but a number of sources say privately that a major announcement from the province could be coming in October.

“The province will announce further details at a later date,” is all that a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy will say about the timing.

“We will work with the federal government, local Indigenous Nations and South Okanagan communities to create a plan to protect the large number of endangered species in that area, as the federal government develops a new national park,” she said, roughly echoing the wording in the NDP’s election platform.

The former B.C. Liberal government announced in January that it was resuming talks with Parks Canada, potentially leading to a national park reserve in the area south of Highway 3 and west of Osoyoos, as well as in an area between Vaseux and White lakes to the north.

Those talks have continued since the election, sources say, and if anything, they’ve become more intensive.

The new NDP government is not bound by the B.C. Liberals’ blueprint and quite possibly could opt for a larger park, though not necessarily what was proposed in 2010.

It’s no secret that the NDP government is a stronger proponent of the national park reserve than the B.C. Liberals.

Their commitment to working with the federal government – as well as First Nations and local communities – to establish a new national park in the South Okanagan is explicitly stated in their election platform.

George Heyman, the environment minister, has a track record as an environmentalist, including serving as executive director of the Sierra Club B.C. from April 2009 to December 2012, before seeking election in 2013.

“He understands what connectivity is,” said one source, referring to the unconnected patchwork proposal put forward by the B.C. Liberals.

Environmentalists are acutely aware that many animal species needing protection are migratory and don’t just stay in little enclaves.

One of the controversial approaches taken by the former Liberal government was to propose a central Area 2, between Oliver and Cawston, as a provincial conservancy outside of any national park reserve.

This would provide a lesser degree of protection, but it would be more palatable to some of the park opponents and ranchers in those communities and that area.

But the plan would have kept Mount Kobau, the crown jewel of the area, out of the park – and also would have excluded the land of some ranchers who already have indicated a willingness to sell their land for a park.

Heyman, back in January when he was the NDP environment critic, told us he didn’t support the Liberal government’s “patchwork quilt approach.”

“It won’t bring the economic benefits that a park would bring,” he told us in a January interview after the B.C. Liberals announced their plan. “Nor will it provide the ecosystem continuity that park proponents have called for.”

Having taken the position in opposition, the new government will have a very hard time doing anything other than exceeding what the Liberals proposed.

The new government is also less beholden to the park opponents, who largely supported Liberal MLA Linda Larson, but they’ll probably not want to antagonize them by being unreasonable, stirring up a hornet’s nest either.

Unfortunately, until the provincial government announces its plans to move forward, Parks Canada is effectively muzzled – as they have been ever since the B.C. Liberals formally pulled the plug on the park at the end of 2011.

And that means Parks Canada has been unable to say anything about its plans that might allay the concerns of ranchers or Canadian Helicopters (HNZ), which uses the area for training.

On the other hand, the affected bands within the Okanagan Nation Alliance have been deeply involved in discussions with the two levels of government – both before and after the election. In recent years, they’ve been supportive of a national park reserve in which most likely they would have a management role.

Once the province makes its announcement, there will still be many steps before a national park reserve is finally established – there must be a detailed formal agreement, federal legislation is required to create the park and then the long process of acquiring and assembling land begins.

Parks Canada points out that neither government approved the 2011 feasibility assessment and the one done by the Okanagan Nation Alliance hasn’t been discussed by the two governments.

After feasibility assessments are approved, the next steps involve stakeholder engagement and negotiation of agreements, Parks Canada said.

Things may start happening quickly, but there’s still a long way to go.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

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One Comment

  1. Tony

    October 4, 2017 at 10:21 am

    These lands are already provincially protected and the studies regarding the species at risk also proved that these species are not found above the valley basin, reaching only as high up as the vineyards. If they truly want to protect these species then they should be looking at all the development going forward down there and not looking to cause issues to those living above.
    http://www.nonationalpark.com

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