A presentation at Keremeos council drew a small crowd, but big questions about the impacts on locals and the environment.
Sarah Boyle, project manager of the South Okanagan-Similkameen Protected Areas Establishment Branch, told council and the group of about eight area residents it could take up to 30 years to establish a National Park in the area.
Boyle said the process is about halfway completed, which includes an assessment phase, negotiations with stakeholders including First Nations, local residents, private landowners and the province, and then there is a 12 year setup time frame.
She noted Parks Canada is still in the assessment or feasibility phase of the park until a formal agreement is made between Parks Canada, the province of British Columbia and the Okanagan Nation Alliance.
If an agreement is made, negotiations will start taking place which can take between one to three years. During that phase things like what kind of uses will be permitted, what types of amenities can be offered, who will pay, will be discussed.
“In that first five years (of operating the park) you’ve got your ideas coming, your staff hiring, you’ve got your design and engineering as well as your construction and there is usually in year-five of a park you start seeing actual boots on the ground. So it’s not a quick process by any means, but will be a very thorough and lasting one,” she said in response to a question about how long before people would have access to a park.
During the presentation Boyle said First Nations people will have access to the land in the National Park reserve and will be able to use the land for traditional purposes without restriction despite the typical prohibition of hunting in National Parks.
Doug Boult, a Cawston resident and avid outdoorsman asked: “If you have one group of people that are allowed to do what they want and another group of people are completely limited and have to pay, even if they are doing good stuff, how is that going to be reconciled in these communities?”
Boyle pointed to a National Park on Bruce Peninsula in Ontario that reimburses fees for local people.
She added, “as of 2016 this landscape with First Nations is really changing and it’s really changing very quickly… A lot of Governments including provincial have to start reconciling with what this means. So, the federal government is one of those examples, but we are all going to have to start grappling with what that means in terms of what traditional lands, rights and title is. And I think that’s really part of what reconciliation is, the local communities working together to figure out ways that we can allow the same practices on the landscape,” she said.
When asked if it answered his question, Boult said, “No, but it was a nice deflection.”
The only question from council came from Jeremy Evans who asked if Parks Canada had thought how restricted activities (hunting, firewood collection and fishing) in the National Park might impact other areas nearby.
“It puts more pressures in other areas,” he said.
Boyle said she needed more information on how much firewood is collected within the proposed boundaries of the park and said if prescribed burns are planned or thinning, firewood collection might be allowed at certain times.
She said she is currently working with the province to look deeper into the impacts on hunting of mule deer, black bears and game fowl.
She noted a piece of land within the boundary of the proposed park is in Nature’s Trust Conservancy and allows hunting currently and restrictions might have an impact with more people hunting in that area.
“We’re really going to have to work and collaborate with private landowners and the province on the outside to manage those pressures,” she said.
She noted about 33 per cent of the land within the boundary of the proposed park is Crown Land and that a large portion of that is subject to grazing tenure.
“Ranching families within the proposed national park reserve will be able to continue operating as they are today with a similar regulatory framework,” a handout from Parks Canada stated.
The handout also noted that the federal government cannot expropriate private lands to add to a National Park reserve.
Projections determined by a private consultant claim 73,200 people would visit the park in year one out of those 56 per cent (40,700) would be local 44 per cent (32,500) tourists. Of those projected numbers only about 2,300 to 3,900 would be new visitors to the area – with the majority already in the area for other reasons deciding to stop by the park.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer encouraged everyone to fill out the Parks Canada online survey regardless of whether they were for or against a park.
“The Minister is determined to make this happen.. (The) least you can do is make your opinion known whether that is free access for locals within 10 kilometres let’s say or how many accesses or gates do we have in Cawston. Is there right of way agreement to get through to their grazing areas and how do they get there so there’s lots of questions out there,” he said.
A hard copy of the survey is available at the village office or can be filled in online at https://letstalksouthokanagansimilkameen.ca/Okanagan.
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