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Veteran rancher voices his support for South Okanagan national park
A well-known rancher says if people want to see the South Okanagan grasslands remain in their current state, the only way to make that happen is to establish a national park.
Ace Elkink, a cattle rancher west of Osoyoos (Richter Pass), believes a national park reserve is the best way to protect these grasslands from future development.
Otherwise, you will see these areas “chopped up” and subdivided.
“It will be developed eventually,” Elkink said.
It was announced last week that Elkink has sold a huge chunk of land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The rancher noted he has a lot of land that Parks Canada wants for the reserve, but his decision to accommodate them will depend on a negotiated deal.
“It’s up to ranchers if they want to sell to the park . . . they don’t have to sell,” Elkink said.
He noted that a lot of ranchers who have raised concerns about the national park proposal do not farm within the park’s boundaries.
The rancher acknowledged some people’s concerns that a national park would restrict certain recreational activities.
But he said these private lands are more restrictive now than what a national park would be. He stated that a park would make these areas more accessible to the public for hiking and other activities.
The South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network is pushing the province to return to the negotiating table.
The ammunition it is using is the number of jobs the park will create.
Network member Jim Wyse quoted a study (Economic Impact of Parks Canada) that claims 772 jobs are created for every national park in B.C. It also claims that annual visitor spending per B.C. national park is $57.5 million.
In 2008/09, B.C.’s six national parks received $50.2 million in funding from Parks Canada, according to the study.
Wyse said the national park being proposed (grasslands west of Oliver and Osoyoos) has been downsized from 600 to 286 square kilometres (28,600 hectares).
Wyse acknowledged all of the naysayers, such as MLA Linda Larson and the Grassland Park Review Coalition, keep relying on “old information.”
For example, ranching will be permitted, and so will fishing, Wyse said. Hunting, of course, will be phased out.
Wyse also noted the helicopter company (HNZ Topflight) can continue to train within park boundaries as a “grandfathered” use.
This was resolved a year ago, yet park opponents are still using this argument, Wyse said.
The park will inject new money into the South Okanagan via tourism, but the one person standing in the way is Larson, Wyse stated.
“She’s been difficult . . . she’s been dismissive.”
Wyse said the network has spoken to other MLAs who have expressed their surprise about Larson’s stance on the issue.
The Boundary-Similkameen representative previously stated that she would rather have one farmer than four tourists. She also opposes a national park if it affects the livelihood or lifestyles of locals.
Larson said she hasn’t seen the study Wyse was quoting, but she did mention a 2008 study that showed a gain of 45 jobs in tourism, but a loss of 40 jobs in agriculture, forestry and mining.
“I support ranching, farming and tourism equally. I don’t believe in sacrificing one for the other,” said Larson.
Larson said Elkink sold his less viable ranch land to the land conservancy.
“I’m not sure his comments are useful as he no longer has land in the mix.”
Greg Norton, spokesman for the Grassland Park Review Coalition, isn’t convinced that cattle grazing can co-exist with a park and he hasn’t seen any documentation to support that notion.
He previously told the Osoyoos Times the only thing a national park would accomplish is excluding everyone except a small segment of people.
Norton said the answer is having communities working together rather than having Parks Canada try to manage the area.
He warns that every activity that goes on in the proposed park will be negatively affected.
Norton said the land in question is already well protected under the existing Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), which already identify critical habitat areas.
He also noted the importance of protecting cattle grazing rights so that catastrophic wildfires can be prevented in the park area.
Area C director Allan Patton said, as a politician, he is still on the fence regarding the national park.
Personally, he believes the park boundaries aren’t big enough to make a difference to wildlife habitat preservation.
“I don’t see the park accomplishing much in that regard . . . either go big or go home.”
Patton said if we really want to preserve wildlife habitat, we should be looking at the endangered species on the east side of Osoyoos Lake.
The director also said he isn’t convinced that a national park would bring a huge influx of jobs to the area.
Special to the Times