Council continues push for province to resume talks relating to South Okanagan national park

By on July 9, 2014
Nature lover Harry Nielsen points to places of interest in the South Okanagan grasslands that he hopes will be included in a future national park reserve. While many people in the tourist industry, municipal governments and environmentalists want to see a national park reserve created in the South Okanagan, some ranchers and the provincial government oppose this. (Richard McGuire photo)

Nature lover Harry Nielsen points to places of interest in the South Okanagan grasslands that he hopes will be included in a future national park reserve. While many people in the tourist industry, municipal governments and environmentalists want to see a national park reserve created in the South Okanagan, some ranchers and the provincial government oppose this. (Richard McGuire photo)

Town of Osoyoos council won’t give up on its push to try and get the provincial government to resume talks with Parks Canada to establish a national park in the South Okanagan.

At Monday’s regular meeting of town council, councillors voted unanimously to send another motion to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to show support for resuming talks to establish a national park in the South Okanagan.

The new motion focused not only on the economic benefits of opening a national park in this region, but also on the ecological and natural benefits as no hunting would be allowed within park boundaries. As many as 30 species at risk would be protected as a result.

After almost a full decade of talks and research, the Liberal government closed down talks about establishing a national park in the South Okanagan in January of 2012.

Since that time, many organizations, including numerous municipalities across the province, have pleaded with the government to resume talks, but there hasn’t been any inclination from the Liberal government to listen to those requests.

Town of Osoyoos council passed a previous motion in early April of 2012 urging the government to resume talk.

The motion passed by council on Monday requests that the provincial government re-engage in formal discussions with the federal government relating to the proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen national park.

The town also requested to be briefed on the feasibility study report that was submitted to the provincial government in late 2010 and that the province release the report to the public.

The town also wants to be briefed during and at the completion of any formal talk relating to the national park.

Mayor Stu Wells said he recently flew to Vancouver with a small delegation to send a message to provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak that many people would like talks about the national park in the South Okanagan to resume.

Osoyoos business owner Jim Wyse was part of that delegation and he spoke with Polak and several high-ranking members of her cabinet about the major impact a national park would have on environmental protection issues, said Wells.

Coun. C. J. Rhodes said he “totally supports a national park” for this region and he’s glad the UBCM will be receiving this updated motion as a clear indicator Town of Osoyoos council is strongly in favour of talks resuming.

Canada has some of the most beautiful national parks in the world and tourists from around the world come to Canada in large part to visit many of these national parks, said Rhodes.

Polak has agreed to a second meeting with the local committee relating to the national park in the coming weeks, said Wells.

The motion approved by council includes a “solid business case” for the national park.

The business case states the national park represents an important economic driver for B.C. and the provincial government needs the federal government’s continued support for the project to become a reality.

“Canada’s national parks represent a vital conservation of our national heritage, are a special contributor to our sense of identity and place, and serve crucial ecological purposes,” reads part of the motion. “These parks play an important role in B.C.’s economy as substantial sources of economic stimulus and community economic development.

“The benefits of the proposed national park for B.C. include increased employment, stimulus for land development, business starts and expansion, a boost in domestic and international tourism, increased investment, opportunities for First Nations economic participation and economic diversification.”

An eight-year in-depth assessment of the feasibility of establishing a national park in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen confirmed the park is feasible and recommends the project proceed.

There are essentially no costs to the provincial government moving forward with the park since the federal government bears alone the costs of establishing and maintaining national parks.

“Since the steering committee’s report was submitted, the federal government has waited for the provincial government to follow the recommendation of the steering committee and take the next step forward bringing the economic benefits of the proposed national park to British Columbians,” states the motion.

Many governing bodies, including five regional governments, the BC Chamber of Commerce, Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association and local First Nations represented by the Okanagan Nation Alliance, have all passed formal resolutions asking the province to return to national park discussions with the federal government.

Despite the push from organizations and municipal leaders from across the South Okanagan and many other parts of British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark and her Liberal government have so far refused to even consider resuming negotiations relating to a national park in the South Okanagan.

Wells has commented over the past several months that the only way for the government to change its mind is to amp up the pressure on Clark and Polak and convince them that opening a national park in this region of the province would be beneficial to the province in numerous ways.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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