It’s time to resume talks on creating a national park reserve

By on January 8, 2014

The issue of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen has once again come to the surface thanks to a recent campaign by park supporters and some controversial comments by MLA Linda Larson.

The issue had slipped to the back burner since the B.C. Liberal government abruptly cut off talks with the federal government early in 2012, ostensibly because the provincial government didn’t believe there was enough support.

A joint study that showed a park is feasible and that many concerns can be addressed was kept hidden by the B.C. government until media used freedom of information laws to pry the report from the government’s clenched grasp.

In answer to the Liberals’ claim that there is insufficient support, organizations such as the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network have been asking municipalities, chambers of commerce, tourism organizations and others to write to Environment Minister Mary Polack asking her to restart the talks. Dozens of organizations have now taken this position and they’re copying Larson with their letters.

Larson takes the view that the needs of ranchers and others who use the area must be addressed. This is reasonable, and Parks Canada has already demonstrated considerable flexibility as far as ranching is concerned.

Addressing the wishes of hunters may be more difficult since hunting is generally prohibited in national parks. Parks Canada acknowledges the need to allow traditional hunting by First Nations, but hunting by the larger community will need to be discussed. Even here though, there are signs of Parks Canada becoming increasingly flexible – the new Mealy Mountains national park reserve in Labrador, for example, will allow limited hunting by local people.

The point is, we won’t know what is possible and how the needs of different interests in the community can be addressed unless talks resume. By abruptly shutting down talks, the provincial government was shortsighted and cowardly. They wrongly believed they could make the issue just go away.

Larson’s blindness to the importance of tourism to the local economy is particularly disturbing for an MLA elected to serve all the people. Standing by her previous statement that one farmer is worth more than four or five tourists, she not only shows a lack of economic understanding, but she also pits two important economic groups against each other. Other community leaders more wisely note that ranching and tourism can be complementary.

Last year local First Nations came out with their own study showing qualified support for a park. Various local groups are now coming to a consensus and the provincial government is out of step.

Reopening talks doesn’t commit the provincial government to go forward with the park if needs of stakeholders can’t be addressed to their satisfaction.

It does, however, allow solutions to be explored to see if a park can become a win for everybody.


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