Proposal for new national park in British Columbia

Proposal for new national park in British Columbia

Conservation Northwest / Oct 10, 2015 / British Columbia

Proposal for new national park in British Columbia

Aug 13, 2015
by Chase Gunnell — last modified Dec 15, 2015 09:27 PM

Proposal for new national park in British Columbia

Chopka grasslands, South Okanagan-Similkameen, British Columbia. Photo Graham Osborne, South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN)

Groups urge full protection of area to safeguard natural and cultural heritage, wildlife habitat

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Bellingham, WA – As a result of years of discussions with First Nations, local communities and conservation advocates, the provincial government in British Columbia released today an intentions paper announcing a 60-day public comment period on proposals for new wildlands protections in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, including a new Canadian national park bordering north-central Washington.

The South Okanagan-Similkameen country of southern British Columbia, with rolling hills of sagebrush grassland and sweeping valleys dotted with groves of ponderosa pine, contains rich natural and cultural heritage. The region is in the traditional territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) First Nation Indian Bands, one of the principal advocates of the national park proposal.

Conservation Northwest, a Bellingham-based nonprofit that advocates for wildlife and wildlands conservation in both Washington and British Columbia, applauded the proposal, while also expressing concern that one of three areas previously considered for inclusion in a new national park is now excluded under the Province’s proposal.

“Conservation Northwest strongly supports a new Canadian national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen,” said Mitch Friedman, the organization’s Executive Director. “This biodiversity-rich area is essential to afford the highest protection to. We support First Nations in their pursuit of secure protections for cultural and natural resources and traditional rights and titles.”

Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Photo Caillum Smith, South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN)
Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Photo Caillum Smith, South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN)

The grasslands of BC’s South Okanagan-Similkameen are the northernmost extension of the arid Columbia Basin. The region contains desert and steppe landscapes and ecosystems common in Eastern Washington and other parts of the American West, but unique in British Columbia and western Canada.

Distinctive habitat in the region supports a diverse array of grasslands plant and animal life, from bighorn sheep and mule deer to badgers and sharp-tailed grouse. The South Okanagan-Similkameen is home to a third of British Columbia’s “Red Listed” (endangered) wildlife species and 7 wildlife species of global concern.

Designation of a new South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park would permanently secure wildlands protections and cross-border habitat connectivity for wildlife in this transboundary area. In an era of changing climate, such connectivity will likely be vital for the long term survival of many species in the region.

More on a South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park

“What remains of this ecosystem is being encroached upon on all sides. We desperately need strong protection to keep it intact and prevent it from being irreversibly converted to other uses,” said Peter Wood, Director of Terrestrial Conservation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“The areas identified for possible protection in the discussion paper coincide with those proposed for inclusion in the national park under the study approved by the Provincial-Federal Working Group in 2011. These areas were selected to provide habitat for rare species and ensure connectivity,” said Wood.

The South Okanagan-Similkameen region also provides high quality outdoor recreation and tourism benefits for cities and communities on both sides of the international border.

“We agree with the Province that this area has enormous tourism potential,” said Doreen Olson, Coordinator of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network. “Having a national park will really put this area on the map and give it the recognition it deserves.”

In April, an independent poll confirmed that local support has surged to three to one in favor of establishing a national park. Recently, a number of regional governments, tourism associations, First Nations and economic interests have passed formal resolutions supporting the resumption of talks between the Federal and Provincial governments to establish a national park.

The provincial government said a number of factors will be considered when developing the final policy including: protection of First Nations values and cultural sites, expansion of tourism (including aboriginal tourism), protection of species-at-risk, recreational activities, agricultural activities and protection of ranching and existing grazing tenures.

The public has a 60-day period to provide comments on the intentions paper with final responses due by Oct. 12, 2015. BC Parks will review the feedback and publicly post a Consultation Report along with final recommendations in early 2016.

Valley and ponderosa hillsides in South Okanagan. Photo South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN)
Valley and ponderosa hillsides in South Okanagan. Photo South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN)