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RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN EASTERN CANADA COULD AFFECT NATIONAL PARK DEBATE LOCALLY
British Columbia recently withdrew from the process to establish a national park in the Okanagan, yet more public presentations on it are scheduled this week in Princeton and Hedley.
Is there any point?
There might be if more people were aware of a new reality at Parks Canada. Recent decisions by the federal government regarding two national park projects in eastern Canada indicate at least two of the concerns expressed by opponents to the Okanagan project may be unfounded. First, there is the concern that a park would end hunting on the land comprising it, and second, it would end grazing there.
It is true that the guiding principles and operational policies for national parks have long prohibited non-native hunting (except for transitional periods where locals depended on subsistence hunting), and that under the National Parks Act, grazing by domesticated animals is also prohibited.
The federal government, however, has apparently abandoned these guidelines.
In 2010, at the insistence of the hunting lobby in Labrador and of the provincial government there, it signed a preliminary agreement for a new Mealy Mountains National Park that, if finalized, will open the park permanently to “traditional” (not “subsistence”) hunting by locals – including the entire population of the greater Happy Valley-Goose Bay metropolitan area.
This comprises some 10,000 people, the majority of whom are non-native. Many park supporters were, and remain, appalled by this about-face. It was decided without any broad public consultation, nor even any change to the current rules against it.
Yet the agreement has been trumpeted as a precedent for parks across the country by the one “environmental group” (the Canadian Boreal Initiative) that got to participate in the discussions. Other groups have also applauded it without contesting the legitimacy of such a game-changing provision.
As for grazing cattle, the federal government set another relevant precedent later in 2010 when it signed an understanding with Nova Scotia to establish Sable Island NP.
The island is best known as the home of a large number of grazers (horses) introduced in the 1800s. As alien fauna, which trample its native grasses, spook its nursing seals and crush its nesting birds’ eggs, Parks Canada’s principles and procedures are clear that they would have to go when the park is finalized. Yet in announcing the agreement with Nova Scotia, the federal minister responsible referred specifically to preserving their presence.
There was no science behind it. A significant number of people simply wanted them kept there, regardless of their environmental impact – and that sufficed.
In short, the rules that govern park establishment and management are no longer being applied.
Hunting by locals and grazing by exotic species are on their way to become accepted practices within national parks. Clearly, it’s just a matter of insisting.
Barring an epiphany on the part of Parks Canada before the Mealy Mountains and Sable Island negotiations are finalized, refusing to allow the same things in a future Okanagan national park would appear arbitrary.
Strangely, this emerging new paradigm doesn’t seem to have dawned on most people – not even on those most likely to be affected by park proposals (whether it be the Okanagan, the Flathead or any other).
Neither the minister responsible, nor local government MPs, nor Parks Canada seem to be pointing it out that hunting would not be allowed in the park. Yet presumably, the 10,000 or so residents of the Osoyoos-Oliver region – whose taxes will be supporting Labrador’s new park – have the same rights as those of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
The more people who are aware of recent developments, the more informed the debate over this project – and over the future of our national park system as a whole – can be.