A national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen was praised by federal, provincial and First Nations leaders on Tuesday as a way to protect endangered species, ecosystem and sacred Indigenous sites.
But moving ahead with the controversial national park that would cover roughly 300 square kilometres still isn’t supported by a large percentage of people in the region, according to Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, who said she thinks the park proposal only has about 50 per cent of support, which includes Indigenous people.
“It doesn’t sit well,” she said. Larson said she isn’t opposed to conservation and protecting sacred sites but takes issue with the federal government stepping in to do it.
“I’ve always felt from day one that it did not have to be federal, that the province has more than enough tools to do more of the conservation and preservation and to certainly partner with the First Nations to work out management agreements with them,” she said.
“This particular area is populated. This is not a wilderness. This is smack dab in the middle of the hottest tourist area in B.C. It is already swarming with people and when they finish doing all of their studies, they said there might be another 2,000 tourists. Well, we can probably handle that but if you want to protect the land, you don’t normally bring in more people.”
Director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society (SOSPS) Lionel Trudel said the society rejects the federal government’s concept of a national park completely. He said according to the society’s numbers, Parks Canada’s proposal is only supported by 10 to 15 per cent.
“We think that Parks Canada is a failed agency and an old modelling of environmental protection that is outdated and needs to be removed from the environmental landscape. Their practices and bureaucracy has lead to deficit and debt within the Canadian government that is monumental. They are on the hook right now for $9.5 billion in upgrades and maintenance.”
He said those numbers are from a 2018 study conducted New Zealand-based Opus International Consultants, which reviewed 46 national parks, 171 historic sites and buildings and various bridges. It concluded that 40 per cent of Parks Canada’s assets are in poor or very poor condition, he said.
Larson agreed. She and said with all the financial and management issues Parks Canada is having right now, the federal government isn’t a good fit. She pointed to a land resource management plan conducted in the 1990s as a model that a larger percentage of the community can agree on for a protected area.
“It dovetails totally into the B.C. Nature Trust conservation practices and it works with ranchers. It’s a solution that provides more people with a shared use and a happier completion at the end of the day,” added Trudel of the resource management plan. “Rather than only pleasing five to 10 per cent of the community—which is the case with Parks Canada—this will please 75 to 80 per cent of the community and reflect the wishes and wills of the people that live here.”
HNZ general manager Dave Schwartzenberger was among the invited guests to the announcement Tuesday. But the helicopter training facility is no closer to finding out if they will be able to continue training if the national park goes ahead.
“They (government) keep saying everything is okay (for continued use) but we just have a hard time believing that,” said Schwartzenberger Wednesday. “We’re also heavily involved in the airport here and we just want to make sure all of the stakeholders are at least aware of what’s happening.”
Armed forces from a large number of countries, including Canada, use HNZ for it’s mountain flying training and upgrades.
The company is also currently in the process of renewing its permit with the province in the region as well, involving increased requirements regarding wildlife mitigation and other matters.
“It’s a tough one we’re really working towards being a good neighbour but right now there are just so many details to work out,” said Schwartzenberger.