Park proponents present their case to Lower Similkameen stakeholders

Meeting results in little more than exchange of opposite viewpoints as CPAWS attempts to point out merits of national park

 

Chloe O’Loughlin, Director of Terrestrial Conservation for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) made a stop in Keremeos on Feb. 23 to speak to a collection of roughly 20 members of the business community and local politicians about a national park in the area.

O’Loughlin toured  South Okanagan – Similkameen communities last week in an effort to speak to community leaders about CPAWS view of what a national park would do for the area. She was accompanied in Keremeos by local park proponent        Doreen Olsen.

Area “B” Director George Bush, who also attended previous meetings of O’Loughlin’s’ earlier in the week, cautioned the 25 or so audience members to “be respectful,” as he had noted that had not been the case in some of the previous meetings.

O’Loughlin began by admitting her bias, telling the gathering that she was there to present a “pro park view.” She said that she had been keeping up to date with local newspapers’ letters and stories about the park issue, noting that the most volitile discussions over the park appeared to deal with ATV use and hunting in the area earmarked for park status.

O’Loughlin described CPAWS as a nation wide organization that was science based, practised respectful advocacy and worked with government and industry to find solutions to environmental and eoological issues. (CPAWS vision statement is to keep at least half of Canada’s  public land and water wild — forever. The society’s  focus is on protecting large, connected areas of Canada’s wilderness.)

“We are not anti industry, nor are we opposed to mining and forestry – we work collaboratively with these groups through compromise and negotiation,” she said.

O’Loughlin then presented a business case for a national park, stating that the “federal government is highly supportive of a park, as they need the representative ecosystem this park would provide to fulfill the national parks systems plan.”

“This park has had no support for eight years. Why are we going to the next step?” asked a  listener, to which O’Loughlin replied that public opinion polls indicated a majority of support, and the plethora of “No National Park” signs in the area were not viewed as “valid indications of support.” O’Loughlin added that the recent statement by the province stated that they were withdrawing their support “at this time.”

“They need to hear from the RDOS, local politicians and the business community,” she said.

Another member of the audience corrected O’Loughlin’s assertion that the federal government favoured a park.

“The feds are not committed to a park – Parks Canada is,” he said.

Another commented on the public opinion polls done, indicating that the majority favoured a park.

O’Loughlin then moved on to discuss the park boundaries, commenting that the original park boundaries had been scaled back from 650 square kilometres to 280. The Snowy Mountain area had been dropped, as had a collection of protected properties surrounding the south end of Vaseaux Lake. The remaining “study area” consists of a piece of land roughly bounded by Fairview Road to the north, the Similkameen River to the west, the western edge of the Okanagan Valley and south to the border.

O’Loughlin also had a business case to present, providing a list of economic benefits she predicts will follow the establishment of a park in the area. O’Loughlin based her figures on information taken from the 2010 report, The Economic Value of Parks Canada. By taking an average of all seven B.C. national parks, she came up with the following:

– National parks increase GDP by 37.1 million per year.

– increases labour revenue by 25 million per year.

– increases tax revenue by 3.5 million per year.

– increases visitor spending by 49 million per year.

– Develops 570 new full time jobs related to the establishment of a national park.

– Provides capital funding of 5 to 10 million per year.

“We wouldn’t be seeing all these benefits at once,” she cautioned, “a park can take 100 years to develop.” O’Loughlin also noted that all costs for a national park, including management, would be borne by the federal government.

O’Loughlin also spoke about wild fire prevention, water and drought management,  and hunting and problem wildlife – local concerns to many who feel would be exacerbated by  having a large national park  in the region. She assured the audience that Parks Canada could and would control wildfire and water issues. With respect to hunting, O’Loughlin said that First Nations would maintain their constitutional right to hunt, but other hunting would be phased out over years to “respond to hunter’s wishes.”

 

O’Loughlin offered assurances that a national park would work with local governments. She spoke of previous opinion polls that favoured a national park, noting that the polls showed that the strongest opposition to a park came from a portion of no park opponents who were born in the valley or who had lived there for a long time.

O’Loughlin believes that a national park would provide stability, funds and staff support for ranchers around the park.

 

 

“It is better to ensure that the park is surrounded by healthy, viable working ranches. It is not in anyone’s interest to see this landscape fragmented, sold and divided up into a few 40 hectare private lots,” she said.