MP for BC Southern Interior Alex Atamamenko told the Review recently that his position on the prospect of a national park in the South Okanagan – Similkameen has not changed.
“In order for it to succeed, it needs to be accepted by the residents of the area,” he said.
Atamanenko is encouraged by recent work performed by Parks Canada to re-engage First Nations and ranchers with a new dialogue.
“The First Nations are conducting their own feasiblitity study,” he commented, noting a change in position from their non-negotiating stance of a few years ago.
“It’s encouraging that Parks Canada is now taking a pro active approach in looking for common ground between the ranchers and First Nations – two of the main areas that needed to be addressed,” he added.
Atamanenko agreed with Canadian Helicopters’ position, noting that verbal assurances were not enough of a guarantee that they would be able to continue their operations.
“They would need those assurances in writing,” he said, “and I hope they get that.”
Atamamenko gives Parks Canada credit for trying to conduct the process the right way this time but realizes the outcome may be no different, regardless.
“It’s possible they (stakeholders) will feel more comfortable about it once the issues are addressed, but it is also possible they won’t, he admitted.
When asked about his feelings regarding a modified Parks Canada approach to national parks regulations in order to satisfy stakeholders, Atamanenko that concessions had been made before.
“A compromise is possible,” he concluded, “nothing is set in stone. A healthy compromise needs to be reached so that locals feel it is their park, not something being imposed on them by higher levels of government.”
Boundary – Similkameen MLA John Slater recalled the initial contact he had nine years ago with the federal Liberal government over the subject of national parks.
“They were looking at creating specific national parks in Canada,” he said, “and the grasslands in the Okanagan – Similkameen was one of them.” Slater advised federal officials at the time to go to the public with the idea.
Nine years later, Slater sees the major issue with the national park stemming from a dearth of answers to all of the most pertinent questions regarding it.
“I’ve heard of figures of fifty million dollars to develop a park in an area where most of the land already has protection,” he continued. “The park boundaries have been changed over the years, and there is still no definitive boundary. They have never answered the question as to what happens to leaseholders when their leases expire – show us what it looks like – but they never have.” Slater listed recreation use, wildfire interface protection, wildlife proliferation, park size, and compensation for other present users such as those with mineral claims as long standing issues to which no affirmative answers have been provided.
Slater does not feel it’s in the best interests of B.C., or the country to spend 50 million to protect land which is already protected.
“Keep it in the provincial domain,” he said, “we know what we want.” Slater added that he will lobby Ottawa to make a decision about the park as soon as possible.