Study found plenty of local support for national park

Supporters of a national park in the Okanagan - Similkameen outnumbered opponents by a two-to-one margin, according to a 2007 survey


Supporters of a national park in the region outnumbered opponents by a two-to-one margin, according to a 2007 survey commissioned by Parks Canada.

The result is contained in a much-anticipated Park Canada feasibility study that explored the creation of a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. The study was submitted to the provincial government in January 2011, and released publicly for the first time last week when it was sent to the B.C. NDP in response to a freedom of information request.

Environment Minister Terry Lake in January 2012 cited a lack of public support when he confirmed the province had pulled the plug on the idea.

“While we know there is some support it’s obvious to us there is still a lot of local resistance, so we don’t want to impose something on the local area that doesn’t have a strong level of support,” Lake told the Western News at the time.

“When you do something of this magnitude you want more than 51 per cent, you need a lot of support.”

The 2007 survey, conducted by mail, received 777 responses from around the region. It found 39 per cent of respondents slightly or strongly supported the park, while 19 per cent slightly or strongly opposed it. But 43 per cent of those polled had no opinion or wanted more information.

Lake came under the gun Monday in the provincial legislature, when NDP environment critic Rob Fleming asked why the government “killed the proposal” when the study “shows a majority of the regional population supports it.”

Fleming also took a shot at John Slater, the Liberal MLA for Boundary Similkameen, whom he accused of flip-flopping on the park.

Slater “supported it, opposed it and supports it again,” Fleming said.

Just hours later the Liberals issued a statement from Slater that said he “was very disappointed to hear Mr. Fleming misrepresent my position” on the park.

“My position has not changed:  I support the Province’s decision to withdraw from the National Park initiative,” Slater continued, citing too many unanswered questions about the park.

He said the province recognizes the “important conservation values” in the proposed park area and there “are existing methods available to protect these invaluable grasslands and we will continue to explore these options.”

Other highlights of the feasibility study:

– The report was prepared by a joint provincial-federal steering committee and concluded a national park is feasible. It was signed by deputy B.C. environment minister Cairine MacDonald and two Parks Canada officials.

-The  2010 park concept contained in the study featured two separate areas totalling 284 square kilometres, down from the original 650 square kilometres. The smaller, northern component centred on Vaseux Lake, while the southern  portion featured a large swath of grasslands east of Oliver and Osoyoos but west of Keremeos.

-Parks Canada committed to “an adaptive management framework”  that would support continued livestock grazing inside the park and and ”proactively working with the ranching sector over the long term.” The scaled-down version of the park was also seen as a way to reduce impacts on hunters and helicopter companies that use the area.

– Results from two other surveys on the park conducted by environmental groups are also cited. Those surveys found 63 per cent of respondents were in favour of protecting part of the South Okanagan-Similkameen in a park.