DESPITE PUBLIC SUPPORT, BC STILL SAYING “NO” TO NATIONAL PARK RESERVE IN SOUTH OKANAGAN-SIMILKAMEEN

By Chloe O’Loughlin, Director of Terrestrial Conservation, CPAWS-BC

Last week, the province of British Columbia quietly posted the results of an 8-year feasibility study for the creation of a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. The federal-provincial study cost millions of tax payer dollars, and even though it was completed back in December 2010, it wasn’t until last week that the study was officially made public.

It has definitely been difficult for local residents, who were promised that the study would be transparent, to understand why the Province had not previously published the results. It is a beautiful study – clear and objective – and says unequivocally that the creation of a national park is feasible and that the federal and provincial governments should immediately begin the process of establishing the park.

Why would the Province say ‘not yet’ or – even worse – ‘no’?  The national park is clearly popular; the report shows 63% support. It would increase visitor spending in local communities, create hundreds of park-related jobs, and would provide millions of dollars of tax revenue for the Province.

Development of local communities occurs as a direct result of having a national park. For example, investors would be willing to fund a hotel in Oliver.  The Penticton airport could attract another carrier, thereby ensuring its existence.  Osoyoos would be able to attract young families into a community that is mostly retirees, and could possibly keep their high school open.  The park would help to ensure that Keremeos keeps their grocery store.

Aren’t these things important to BC?

The report says that an interpretive centre would be built in a local community.  If I was a mayor or elected official, I would be advocating hard for it to be in my community.  What better business could you ask for? A tourist will visit the centre and then drop into the local coffee shop or restaurant, visit a gift store, buy local wine, fruits, and produce.

From a conservation perspective, it would protect this critically endangered, unique and gorgeous landscape forever.  And the federal government is required by law to restore the creatures that are iconic in the area, animals such as the burrowing owl and badger.

There are some ranchers who want to sell their property now, offering up an immediate opportunity to establish one-third of the park.  If there is to be no national park, these ranchers will likely have to subdivide their land, opening the door for developers to swoop in and start building suburbs. The ranchers that I have spoken to don’t want to do this. They love their land and want to keep it whole. They want to see it as part of a national park.

National park or suburbs? When I ask that question at meetings in the local communities, people are horrified that the land could become broken up and sold. They want to see it protected. They love the landscape – that is why they live there.

Photo by Graham Osborne