For news, discussion, meetings and events relating to the proposed National Park/National Park Reserve check out the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society (SOSPS) and check the Facebook page called Locals Say No National Park Reserve .
A National Park or National Park Reserve: Why? Why not?
The on-again-off-again park has been under consideration since the late 1990’s. On December 9, 2003 Senator Ross Fitzpatrick began expounding the economic potential of a National Park. The event was the “South Okanagan Similkameen Community-To-Community Forum” in Osoyoos, BC – a meeting of politicians and First Nations. His platform was aimed to impress 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, tourism and development opportunities.
Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned 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 pared this down to 284 sq km in 2010. 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 (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
In 2013, Linda Larson was elected 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.
In 2015, Richard Cannings was elected to serve in the federal Parliament. His election platform included wholehearted support of a national park (or national park reserve). Richard currently serves as the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
Private land is the bulk of the area and is interspersed throughout the proposed park zone. Some of the private parcels are less than 100 acres (40 hectares), some 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 used for producing grapes, fruit, vegetables and hay.
Many local residents aren’t convinced that a National Park/National Park Reserve is the best way to preserve their back yard. Undeterred, proponents have held public meetings in towns hundreds of miles away from the proposed national park zone in an effort to shut down opposition to the National Park. Proponents have solicited letters of support from scientists and environmentalists around the world who have never set foot in British Columbia. Proponents have paid for full-page colour ads in BC provincial newspapers.
Park proponents tout their concept as the only way to protect wild habitat. They fail to mention ongoing efforts to manage and protect the local environment through collaborative regional, provincial and national groups.
Local residents have good reason to be concerned: any wildfire response would need to come from Jasper, Alberta; private land adjacent to the proposed park may be limited in its normal use of wind turbines, bird bangers and pesticides; some private land owners would end up completely surrounded by national park, meaning that the transportation of some goods across park property to their private land would be prohibited.
There are abandoned mine sites, some of which contain toxic compounds. Some of the abandoned mine sites are dangerous places that would need to be fenced off from the public. There are First Nations Traditional and Sacred Sites. And hunting would no longer be permitted.
The biggest concern is that Parks Canada has the legal right to terminate leases and agreements if they deem that the park or wildlife are in jeopardy. There are dozens of other concerns that Parks Canada has yet to respond to.
Parks Canada (as of April 25, 2019) has refused to hold an open public meeting, instead choosing to hold small, by-invitation-only meetings. And Parks Canada has yet to set down concrete plans for the administration of the proposed park.
National Parks in Canada are federal jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of what is “provincial” and what is “federal” was set out in the Constitution Act of 1867. Transferring regulations and laws from provincial jurisdiction to federal jurisdiction can – in some instances – be impossible.
The Province of British Columbia currently leases its crown land to other parties 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.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
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.
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 would 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 were originally used in place of bison to study the feasibility of reintroducing bison to the park. 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 tour buses don’t go where there are no amenities (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 like Whistler, Jasper, Banff, Radium Hot Springs, West Edmonton Mall, the beach, whitewater rafting, wine tours, Starbucks, their tablet…
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.
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 be hefty 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 decades (those agreements can be terminated at any time by Parks Canada).
Currently, Parks Canada has a shortfall of billions of dollars if it were to bring their national infrastracture and assets up to date (an independent study found the majority of Parks Canada assets are in poor condition). It is questionable whether Parks Canada has funding for annual costs such as 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 fresh drinking water from water that originated in the proposed park zone.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
In 2011, the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band were each given $200,000 of taxpayer money to study whether they wanted the responsibility of a National Park Reserve. In December of 2012, a 28-page report entitled “Building a Syilx Vision for Protection” was released by the Syilx Working Group. The last paragraph of the report states some of their band members believe “there can be no trust for government and/or government entities to promote Syilx interests”.
In 2012, CPAWS-Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society took their concept on the road, with 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”.
And so, in 2012, the National Park was going to remedy all kinds of community shortcomings. 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.
Fast-forward to the Fall of 2018. Parks Canada assigned Sarah Boyle as Project Manager, South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen. Ms. Boyle promised a revised proposed boundary map by November, 2018 (it was released in January of 2019). Parks Canada launched a web page for the general public to give input, the results of which have not yet been rendered.
Most surprisingly, Ms. Boyle admitted even if the proposed National Park (or National Park Reserve) is given the green light, it will take at least two years for the required documentation and legislative changes. And it could take up to 10 more years (until 2029) for infrastructure to be in place (even though CPAWS and park proponents promised in 2012 there would be no infrastructure).
As of 2018, Sarah Boyle of Parks Canada has changed the narrative: there will likely be roads, amenities and infrastructure built in the sensitive areas. According to CPAWS, Parks Canada is more concerned about tourism than they are protecting the environment.
ACQUIRING THE LAND
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. Not only is Parks Canada tight-lipped about “who” wants to sell their land to the, it costs $5. to have Parks Canada pen a letter denying a request for that very 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”.
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 take millions of dollars and generations.
Being that domestic animals and domestic livestock are not permitted in a National Park, will Parks Canada pay to fence 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.
A CRITICAL LOOK AROUND THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
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 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 lack of customers outside the peak tourist season; there are empty businesses in downtown Oliver, downtown Osoyoos and downtown Keremeos; the OIB-Osoyoos Indian Band constructed a provincial prison on their lands and built Area 27 – an oppulent, exclusive-membership, 227-acre raceway www.area27.ca/; 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 has only one daily flight out of Penticton; in March of 2019, Air Canada announced a reduction in flights out of Penticton from four to three; 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.
WHAT ABOUT PARKS LIKE JASPER AND BANFF?
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 originally promised there will be no amenities in the proposed national park. None.
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 unceremoniously 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!