South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park

A new Canadian National Park Reserve on the international border

British Columbia’s South Okanagan region. Photo: Parks Canada
July 2019 update: Statement on South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve announcement

A South Okanagan-Similkameen (SOS) National Park Reserve has been proposed in British Columbia with the Similkameen Valley as its centerpiece.

A new Canadian national park north of Oroville, Washington will have tremendous benefits for wildlife habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation and local economies on both sides of the international border.

The grasslands of British Columbia’s South Okanagan-Similkameen are the northernmost extension of the arid Columbia Basin. The region contains shrub-steppe landscapes and ecosystems common in Eastern Washington and other parts of the American West but unique in western Canada. This area is also a vital northern anchor for the habitat connectivity efforts of our Sagelands Heritage Program.

With rolling hills of sagebrush grassland and sweeping valleys dotted with groves of ponderosa pine, the area 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 strongly supports this national park reserve proposal, and we’re working closely with First Nations and other partners in B.C. to help bring it about in a collaborative way that recognizes the interests of stakeholders in the region.

The Connected Backbone, a stretch of key north-south and east-west habitat running from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley south to the Horse Heaven Hills near Yakima. Map: Sonia Hall, SAH Ecological for Sagelands Heritage Program

News on the proposal

South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve video

South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve on Vimeo.

For wildlife and people

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 Reserve 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.

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. Designation of a new national park would preserve opportunities for outdoor recreation and support local economies.

Lifeblood to a rare interior desert

A herd of bighorn sheep overlook Vaseaux Lake. Photo: South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has identified the trans-border valley and the ecosystems it drains as a sensitive, high priority conservation area. According to their Okanagan Ecoregional Assessment, lands and waters along the Similkameen River are Terrestrial and Freshwater Priority Conservation Areas. The region features:

  • Highest breeding bird diversity recorded (according to the Washington Gap Analysis)
  • One-third of British Columbia’s red-listed (endangered) species
  • Cross-border connected habitat for land and water wildlife between the dry grasslands of interior BC and western US
  • Springtime range for bears, including a potential recovering grizzly bear population
  • 47 wildlife species of global concern
  • Habitat for the greatest diversity of terrestrial birds in Washington including nesting bald eagles and peregrine falcons, bobolinks, long-billed curlews, western screech owls, yellow-breasted chats, wintering sharp-tail grouse, and possibly yellow-billed cuckoos
  • Seasonal bighorn sheep range
  • Mule deer winter and spring range, and white-tailed deer habitat, as well as seasonal migration routes
  • Foraging and roosting areas for many bat species
  • Habitat for reptiles and amphibians
  • Home to beaver and muskrats
  • Habitat for shrub-steppe and dry-forest dependent species, such as badgers, golden eagles, burrowing owls, and white-headed woodpeckers