Area “G” director gives views on park proposal

Some thoughts surrounding the pro or no park vote at the RDOS

Many voters took the time to send emails and leave phone messages expressing their opinion about the park issue in our area.  Thank you all for the time and consideration you put into your correspondence.   My “in box” was equally divided by those of you who felt that we need this park and those of you who reject the park.

Arguments both for and against the park were equally heartfelt, with the overwhelming sentiment that people want the landscape protected.  By this I mean that people who want a park believe that a national park is the only way to save this part of the Similkameen from the pressures of development, which is encroaching from both the west and east, while those who oppose a park believe the only way to maintain this place the way it is, is to prevent any development at all, and not “open the gates” to tourism and the invasive footprint of more bodies entering these pristine lands.

I have been accused of “taking the easy way out” by not voting at the RDOS where the proposal was made that this local government ask the province to re-engage its talks around the national park.  In fact, by choosing not to vote on this question, I was acknowledging that this decision should not sit with me;  I feel the decision to engage in discussions about this issue should be made by the landowners and stakeholders directly involved.  The federal government, which holds the purse strings to decide the values of this land should be talking directly with the ranchers and First Nations who will be most affected by the decisions which unfold.

Whether the rest of us believe a park is a good or a bad thing is, in my mind, irrelevant until those most impacted have had a fair opportunity for a meaningful dialogue.  This would mean that the studies that are ongoing and which have been completed should be available for public view, and informed decisions which consider the various impacts can be made by all of us.   We will all win when a good deal for everybody is struck – and that is not impossible.  The guidelines and rules around what a national park includes are decided by people, implemented by people and can be influenced by all of us.

There have been some very compelling arguments made about agricultural land and our ability to feed ourselves, and these points resonate very strongly for me in this time of increased awareness about the unhealthy food supply created by giant agri-business.  We are incredibly lucky to have the access we do to healthy livestock and fruit and vegetables grown right here in the Similkameen.

Having grown up in the farming community of Chilliwack, I know what a threat  development is to ALR lands. It happens.  Thinking that farmland will remain that way forever is misguided: it only takes the right people with enough money to be interested in sticking up a subdivision and Voila! it happens. It would not surprise me if the future included residences crawling up the gorgeous untouched mountains on either side of the Similkameen.  I don’t like the idea, but it looks like it will happen if we don’t take the time to prevent it.

I chose to live in the Similkameen because it does not look like the Okanagan.  The few billboards dotting our landscape is a welcome rest to my eyes weary of neon, and our starry nights are unparalleled.  I can find tasty blue grouse almost outside my doorstep and regularly sight mountain goats on the hills above Hedley.  Many of the people I’ve met, both those who have lived here a long time and those who are newcomers, love this place, filled with the saskatoon blooms and wild currants; soon it will be asparagus season, and when the freshet is over we’ll eat trout for breakfast.

One of the most difficult considerations for me is that tendency we have as human beings to destroy almost everything around us and then look at our neighbours and decide that we want what they have.  Alternatively, we decide they ought to do something that we didn’t.  That is the crux, to me, of this national park argument.  First Nations are well familiar with the tendency of non-natives looking at reserve lands as a place to protect “species at risk.”

The scenario goes something like this, and is equally applicable to the ranchers and hunters of the Similkameen too:  You protect something by stewarding it, making trails through it, getting to know its secrets, making it better but not impacting it in a huge and destructive way. You may choose not to do much because you don’t have the money to, or perhaps you don’t have the desire to. Then, your neighbours, who have either planted vineyards eradicating Burrowing Owl habitat or pulling up antelope brush to build houses, realize that their frogs, salamanders, and turtles are all disappearing and they look across the valley where some of those creatures remain.  Now, since there are only a few creatures left, it’s time to do something.

Why is it, that the folks who have been practicing the values which preserved the place as it is, should not be allowed to decide their own fates, and if they chose, develop it, make money from it, and create the same future for themselves and their descendants that all those who wanted to make wineries on the slopes of the rest of the valley did?

Finding a balance in this delicate landscape is our challenge, made more difficult by the threat to family traditions and values of loving and living on the land.  There are no easy answers in this difficult debate and I think there are merits to both sides of the argument. I believe that the reports should be made public, as they were paid for with taxpayer dollars. If anyone is to decide the fate of the area I believe those most impacted should be the place where the feds start their conversations.


– Angelique Wood