“Truth Will Set You Free.” How does one arrive at the “truth”? Has the public been duped about the “South Okanagan Similkameen National Park”? Is it true that only 2% of the respondents in the 2010 McAllister Opinion Research phone survey believed a “National Park” was/is a priority?
The on-again-off-again park has been kicked around for more than 10 years. On December 9, 2003 Senator Fitzpatrick did his best to tout the economic potential of a National Park at a meeting of politicians and First Nations. The event was the “South Okanagan Similkameen Community-To-Community Forum” in Osoyoos, BC. His platform was aimed at everyone in the room. He referred to the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, “Where over 50% of the full time positions including the chief superintendant are held by First Nations People.” He stressed the importance of preserving, “probably the richest but also the most threatened ecosystem in Canada”. He stressed the upside of more research, cultural opportunities for First Nations and tourists, tourism and development opportunities.
Senator Fitzpatrick alluded to other destination tourism places like the Red Bridge near Keremeos, the old town of Fairview above Oliver, and the Haines homestead near Osoyoos. He called Hedley, Keremeos, Osoyoos and Oliver “gateway communities”. There would be trail riding on adjacent private land, bird watching, river rafting, astronomy, hotels, restaurants, environmental lodges, and a “more affluent tourist to visit wineries, golf courses, ski resorts and other recreational facilities.”
In 2006 the initial National Park concept looked at establishing a park 650 sq km in size. To their credit, Parks Canada’s 2010 document pared this down to 284 sq km. The 2010 Parks Canada study map shows approximately 30% of the proposed area is already “Provincial Protected Areas”. About 30% is provincial “Crown Land”. About 5% consists of four small parcels near Vaseaux Lake currently designated as a “National Wildlife Area”. The majority (approximately 35% give-or-take) is privately-owned land.
The 2010 Parks Canada study and map can be found at http://cpawsbc.org/upload/South_Okanagan-Similkameen_National_Park_Feasibility_Study.pdf
Private land is the bulk of the proposal. It is interspersed throughout the proposed park zone. Some of the private parcels are less than 100 acres (40 hectares), some of the private parcels are 1000 acres (400 hectares) or more. Most of the private land is mountainous. Some of the private land is ranchland. Some of the private land is currently used for producing grapes, fruit, vegetables and hay.
Park proponents have gone far afield to solicit support for the proposal. When it seemed that locals weren’t taking notice, the park proponenets decided to “divide-and-conquer”. They embarked upon a series of meetings in towns hundreds of miles away from the proposed national park zone, spin-doctoring their platform sufficiently that they left out pretty-much everything contradictory to their speel. Park proponents accused locals and politicians of indifference. Those same people who lived hundreds of miles away – and who had nothing to lose – were led to believe the “National Park” was the only way to protect the little creatures that can’t protect themselves. They were also led to believe that ranchers are bad guys because they allow their beef cattle to destroy the wilderness.
In 2013, Linda Larson was elected in the British Columbia Provincial Election to serve in the BC Legislature. Her election platform included a promise that she would back the ranchers, hunters and recreation users, all of whom contribute significantly to the local and regional economy. Linda currently serves as the MLA for Boundary-Similkameen.
The Province of British Columbia currently leases its crown land for a number of purposes. Utility companies lease strips of land throughout the province for power lines, gas lines and other rights-of-way. Ranchers and farmers lease provincial crown land for farming and grazing of cattle. Guide Outfitters and Eco Tour businesses lease specific areas for their own private use. Forestry companies pay for the privilege of logging cut blocks. Some crown land is leased to municipalities. Some crown land is leased for the purpose of storing fresh water. There are numerous ways that the Province of British Columbia receives income from its own land.
Currently, National Parks in Canada are federal jurisdiction. Parks regulations prohibit a domestic animal of any kind (dog, horse, cow, etc) unless it is under the direct control of a person ie) leashed, harnessed or bridled. That’s the way it has been for more than a hundred years. Reverting ownership and reverting jurisdiction from provincial to federal departments can take years and thousands of manhours.
The jurisdiction of what is “provincial” and what is “federal” was set out in the Constitution Act of 1867. Anyone who wants to change that had best have deep pockets and a lot of time. That being said, because of the fact that provincial and federal jurisdictions differ, moving regulations and laws from provincial jurisdiction to federal jurisdiction can – in some instances – be impossible. The rights that ranchers, recreational users, utility companies and others enjoy under provincial jurisdiction may simply not be possible under federal jurisdiction.
Establishing a National Park is the first step. Then comes annual maintenance. Those costs include fire suppression; weed and invasive plant control; fence maintenance; road maintenance; cattleguard maintenance; maintenance of any fire lookout cabins; and watershed protection to name a few. Every community in the South Okanagan and South Similkameen gets its drinking water from water that flowed downhill. That water flowed downhill from the uplands.
If the Government of British Columbia hands over the tracts of land identified in the 2010 Parks Canada proposal; and if Parks Canada takes over management of the tenures and leases currently managed by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, there will indeed be overhead costs. Parks Canada will need to employ staff to oversee the list of grazing tenures (10-year term); hay-cutting tenures (10-year term); grazing permits (1 to 5-year term); hay-cutting permits (1 to 5-year term); grazing leases (20-year term); water licenses; registered traplines; guide outfitter permits; electrical, pipeline and utility right-of-ways; and communications tower easements. They will also need to negotiate separate agreements to maintain the area for helicopter training, a practice that has been ongoing for many years. And they’ll hopefully protect all the benign activities that one can already do in the great outdoors where the proposed national park zone is.
Armed with misleading statistical data, CPAWS-Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society took their sideshow on the road. In their 2012 roadshow, CPAWS twisted facts and presented misinformation. Their 2012 roadshow featured community powerpoint presentations in Osoyoos, Cawston, Okanagan Falls, and Princeton. In Osoyoos they stated the National Park would bring more tourists. In Cawston the National Park would bring more tourists to local wineries and to the Historic Grist Mill And Gardens. In Okanagan Falls the National Park would bring more users to the Penticton airport. In Princeton it would bring doctors and tourists because Princeton will be the “Gateway To The National Park”. (Wait a minute, in 2003 Senator Ross Fitzpatrick didn’t say Princeton would be a “Gateway”, he said that Hedley, Keremeos, Osoyoos and Oliver would be the “gateway communities” to the National Park. What gives?! Have we been duped with a double-double, whopper, “Super Size Me” sales pitch?!!!)
In each of the powerpoint presentations that CPAWS gave, the National Park was going to be the pill, the remedy. Osoyoos was trying to figure out how to keep their residential condos from emptying out by October of each year; TOTA-Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association was launching a pilot project, partnering with the Chamber of Commerce in the South Similkameen; the Province was considering mothballing the Historic Grist Mill And Gardens; there was an active campaign to bring Westjet to Penticton; and Princeton was struggling to bring even one doctor to their community.
What of now? Osoyoos still hasn’t figured out how to keep its affluent tourist condos from emptying out after the dog days of summer; the TOTA regional tourism strategy is expanding and is touted as a darling child to other tourism boards throughout the Province; wineries in the Similkameen, Oliver and Osoyoos area continue to win international prizes for their wine; businesses in Osoyoos still complain about the dwindling tourists; there are still empty businesses in downtown Oliver; the OIB-Osoyoos Indian Band secured an agreement for construction of a provincial prison on their lands; in early 2015 the Province announced they would provide seed money for 10 years to help the Historic Grist Mill And Gardens stand on its own two feet; the LSIB-Lower Similkameen Indian Band has built a state-of-the-art community building; WestJet announced a second daily flight between Penticton and Calgary (there are no other WestJet flights into or out of Penticton); and Princeton has succeeded in attracting doctors. CPAWS, the Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society, the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network, and Western Canada Wilderness Committee did not assist with any of these efforts. Huh!
The provincial crown land in the proposed national park area is critical grazing land for the region’s beef industry. Thousands of cattle range in the timber, grasslands, streams, logging roads and back country of the BC Southern Interior. The handful of ranches in the South Similkameen and South Okanagan would simply not survive if a national park was imposed. Those same ranchers already truck some of their cattle more than 300 km to get them to and from summer pastures because there is more demand than available grazing land. The rich valley floors are used to grow hay for those same cattle to eat during winter: BC Southern Interior enjoys three, sometimes four cuts of hay each year.
I have done the research, and according to Statistics Canada, each beef cow in Canada contributed $1768 to the Canadian economy in 2006. Logic suggests that same impact has likely increased another 20 or 30% since. To take that piece out of the local economy will have a huge detrimental spinoff effect: the local bank, restaurant, grocery store, mechanic and countless other businesses would feel the hit. The beef cattle industry in the South Okanagan and South Similkameen contributes money to the local economy 365 days a year and has done so since the mid 1800′s. If you want more info on the history of ranching in the South Similkameen and South Okanagan Google “Richard Lowe Cawston”; ”Tom and Elizabeth Daly”; “William H. Lowe”; “Francis Xavier Richter”; “Barrington Price”; or “Emanuel Barcelo”. Those names are but an introduction.
Regulation 16. (1) (u) of the Canada National Parks Act states: “(u) the control of domestic animals, including the impounding or destruction of such animals found at large;”. Domestic animals – including dogs – are not permitted to roam in a Canadian National Park. According to the National Parks Act, parks staff can simply destroy them
The only park in Canada that has permitted cattle to graze is Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. The cattle are part of a temporary experiment to study the environmental impact that reintroducing bison to the park might have. Both cattle and bison are hooved creatures, and cattle are a lot easier to transport and herd than bison. The average weight of a beef cow and a bison cow are similar, around 1100 lbs. What sets the bison apart is their bigger-than-life attitude: in Yellowstone Park, Bison are considered to be the most aggressive animal.
Not only does CPAWS suggest, “Build A Park And They Will Come”, they are adamant that international tourists will visit the proposed national park, too. They fail to mention that most of Canada’s National Parks have few amenities, and because of that, tour buses don’t go there. In keeping with that, CPAWS has stated there will be no amenities in the proposed national park. Without motels, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, gas stations, marked walking trails, ski lifts, canoeing, and campgrounds, few international tourists would visit tourist traps Whistler, Jasper, Banff, Radium Hot Springs, West Edmonton Mall, the beach, whitewater rafting, wine tours, Starbucks, their tablet… How is it, then, that the proposed National Park will be so radically different, such a draw, such a big deal?
In contrast to the 365-day-a-year spinoff from ranching, tourism in the BC Southern Interior contributes to the economy chiefly in June, July and August. Tourism does indeed inject millions of dollars into the Southern Interior economy every year, but it doesn’t do much of that outside of the peak summer season. Businesses that cannot survive through the slow season simply cease altogether. It happens all the time.
What, then, of other National Parks like Jasper and Banff? Don’t they matter? Yes, of course they matter. They are international attractions that offer up nature, convention centres, arts, exotic spas, hot springs, skiing, golf and a slew of other things to do. But Parks Canada is already trying to sell off management of hot springs such as Radium Hot Springs. Many Canadians share fond childhood memories of national parks that have amazing amenities…but CPAWS promises there will be no amenities in the proposed national park. None.
The truth needs to be considered.
Jasper and Banff were created by reserving hundreds of square miles of wilderness. Prime Minister John A. MacDonald set aside the first 10 square-mile parcel in 1885. The parcel surrounded a natural hot springs. Acts of Parliament succeeded in reserving the rest of what was for a time called “Rocky Mountains Park”. Between 1890 and 1920, the Stoney (Assiniboin) Indians were uncremoniously removed from what would become Banff National Park. There was little “cost” and most certainly, no currency changed hands. And the premise of protecting that 10 square-mile parcel back in 1885 was to keep the hot springs out of the hands of profiteers who realized that rich folks don’t mind bonding with the great outdoors as long as they can do it in style!
The proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park would be made up of non-contiguous chunks of land, and many of those chunks would be surrounded by private land. Filling in the blanks will literally take millions of dollars and generations.
Parks Canada will need to buy up private land if and when property owners decide to sell to Parks Canada. There is no law enacted that says once a national park is established adjacent property owners must first consider selling their property to Parks Canada if and when they are ready to sell. Whereas Jasper and Banff were created with the stroke of a pen and some creative negotiations with First Nations, the proposed national park could well take generations and millions of Canadian tax dollars to take shape.
Parks Canada is not willing to disclose exactly “who” wants to sell their land to form the proposed park. I tried that. I had to send Parks Canada a personal cheque for $5. to get them to pen a letter denying my request. The letter stated Parks Canada cannot disclose that information.
They are only saying that “some” adjacent property owners want to sell their land to Parks Canada. It begs the question: are there people in the South Okanagan and South Similkameen who are currently vocal in supporting the national park because they want to sell their land to Parks Canada? If so, that would be deemed to be a legal “Conflict Of Interest”.
Being that domestic animals and domestic livestock are not permitted in a National Park, who will pay the cost of fencing literally thousands of linear miles of park so that the park area is kept apart from the private land – or so that the private land is kept apart from the park area? Who will pay to maintain those fences?
If we put up fences, wouldn’t we be trapping migrating wildlife like prisoners? Wild animals are territorial, and those territories can be a couple of square miles to 20 or 30 square miles. Much like cattle either wander down or are brought down from the uplands and timberland in the Fall, many wild animals come out of the hills in the Fall, too, in search of food. Fencing small parcels of national parkland will prevent those that can’t go over or under the fences from migrating. They will simply starve. When wildfires erupt, they will perish at the fenceline. I have personally seen the remains of a moose that perished while entangled in a barbed wire fence. It was a slow and frightful death for the moose.
Here’s one for you: Did I mention that Jasper Park was never ratified by First Nations?