UBC study refutes notion of local people versus national park in South Okanagan

By on July 15, 2015
Opponents of the national park have a couple dozen “No National Park” signs along Highway 3 between Keremeos and Cawston. When Bob Parker, a park supporter, put up “Yes National Park” signs they were torn down or vandalized. (Bob Parker photo)

Opponents of the national park have a couple dozen “No National Park” signs along Highway 3 between Keremeos and Cawston. When Bob Parker, a park supporter, put up “Yes National Park” signs they were torn down or vandalized. (Bob Parker photo)

The idea that a national park reserve in the South Okanagan is at odds with the interests of local people is not supported by evidence, says a recent study by graduate students at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The proposed park in South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen is not stalled because of public opinion or projected benefits, but rather because of a few politically empowered opponents, the study concludes.

“The South Okanagan-Similkameen Park Proposal Through an SES Lens” report was authored by PhD student Maayan Kreitzman and Masters student Maery Kaplan-Hallam, both students at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

Yaron Cohen and Ashley Cyr also contributed.

“A powerful parks vs. people narrative has taken hold, painting a picture that area people don’t want a national park,” Kreitzman and Kaplan-Hallam wrote with their professor Kai Chan in a summary of their research published recently as an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun.

That impression is reinforced by a couple dozen signs along Highway 3 near Keremeos that proclaim “No National Park,” they said.

The study looked at stakeholder groups and used a social-ecological systems (SES) analysis to conclude that this is not, in fact, a case of conservationists disregarding the needs of local people in order to maintain a pristine wilderness.

Instead, the views of park opponents have been heard consistently, but those opponents often quoted in the media don’t represent the opinions of those they claim to represent, the study says.

Kreitzman acknowledged that the students didn’t do direct interviews with park opponents. Rather they looked at published documentation and data including three public opinion polls, results of government stakeholder consultations and an analysis of local media.

One name that kept coming up in their media analysis was Greg Norton, who has been the spokesperson for the Grasslands Park Review Coalition and was a vice president in MLA Linda Larson’s riding association until he stepped down on October 2014.

“The lack of transparency about who and how many people the Grasslands Review Coalition represents was kind of stark because there’s no website, there’s no information on that,” Kreitzman said in an interview. “There’s just the appearance of quotes from Norton in the media, and there isn’t really any information that’s public (about the group). We can only conclude that there’s no reason to suppose that it is representational.”

In the past, Norton has said it is an informal group of about 20 people representing different sectors opposing the park.

Kreitzman, however, points to a poll released in April that was conducted by McAllister Opinion Research, which surveyed 501 people in the provincial ridings of Boundary-Similkameen and Penticton.

That poll found 79 per cent support for a park among those running a farm or a ranch and 67 per cent support among those participating in ATVs or snowmobiling. Support among hunters was 70 per cent.

Kreitzman acknowledged that the ranchers surveyed weren’t necessarily the ranchers who would be most affected by a national park, because the poll used a random sample.

“While ostensibly, the voices of hunting and ORVing stakeholders have come out the loudest, particularly in local newspaper articles and copious anti-park signage along the highways, recent new data provides evidence that these groups are no less supportive of the park than the general public,” the UBC study said, citing the McAllister poll as evidence.

“The impression that these recreational groups and even a majority of the larger community shared the same concerns as a few vocal opponents over park implementation to some extent captured the public imagination, particularly following the B.C. government’s decision to put a stop to the park process,” the study said.

Not only does the poll show increasing support for a park, but with the accumulation of business and municipal support for a park, the narrative of parks vs. people is shown to be false, the study concludes.

The stakeholder group that would most likely be considered vulnerable, the Okanagan Nation Alliance, has agreed to work with Parks Canada and has supported creation of the park, the students said.

Finally, it concludes that the costs of the park – the decreased areas for hunting and off-road vehicle use – “are far outweighed by the many social ecological benefits that accompany a thriving grassland ecosystem.”

Kreitzman acknowledged the collaboration on the study with the pro-park group Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) B.C. Chapter, but she said the main CPAWS involvement was discussion at the beginning as the students were determining their direction.

CPAWS did not have input into the study as it progressed, she said.

Chan, the students’ professor, in 2011 organized a letter signed by 233 scientists calling on the province to “move forward on an urgent basis” to protect a representative sample of B.C.’s dry and ecologically diverse Interior plateau.

A second report by graduate students in the same department concluded that a national park would enhance opportunities for protecting endangered species habitat, climate mitigation, clean water and recreational opportunities.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

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