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Okanagan Basin Water Board considers asking province to reopen talks on national park
The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is considering throwing its support behind renewed discussions on establishment of a national park in the South Okanagan.
The board will discuss a resolution Friday calling on the Province of B.C. to re-engage in a formal national park establishment process with the government of Canada and the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA).
Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the OBWB, is recommending that the board approve the resolution as presented.
The resolution was drafted by the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network, which met with Sears Warwick in August.
Discussions aimed at establishing a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen have been ongoing since 2003, but in early 2011 the province withdrew from the process saying it didn’t believe a park had sufficient public support.
Some ranchers and others have opposed the national park with economic interests in the area being considered for a park.
The proposed park would encompass lands currently in and around the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area, west of Osoyoos and Oliver and east of Cawston.
Supporters argue that a national park reserve would protect the unique area of arid grassland and would increase tourism potential in the region.
The resolution simply seeks a reopening of discussions by the province and doesn’t prejudge whether a park should go ahead, Warwick Sears said.
The existence of a park could have an impact on water quality and quantity within the region, she suggested, noting that as a park the area would have a higher level of land management, protection from invasive species, fire protection and staffing – improvements that would indirectly support better water quality.
The OBWB has not taken a position on the park in the past, she said. She noted, however, that the park is now supported by the ONA as well as by the regional district of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).
OBWB Chair Stu Wells, who is also the mayor of Osoyoos, also said both Osoyoos town council and the RDOS board have previously passed motions supporting a national park.
He also noted that the proposal is now supported by local first nations.
“We have a new provincial government and I think people like (MLA) Linda Larson are realizing that they may have to be more supportive than what they were before,” said Wells.
In a letter to the OBWB, Doreen Olson, co-ordinator of SOS National Park Network, said a national park would benefit the watershed and the work of the OBWB.
A Canada-British Columbia feasibility study released in 2011 showed that a national park is feasible and called for the province to work with the federal government and the ONA to establish a park.
Although local first nations initially had concerns about the proposal, the ONA released its own feasibility study in February supporting a park and calling on the province to resume discussions.
In a memo sent recently to the OBWB, Warwick Sears noted that existing businesses such as ranchers will be allowed to continue within the park and land will be purchased from willing sellers as it becomes available.