There was speculation the creation of a new national park in the south Okanagan would be announced Friday.
Instead, the announcement is a “renewed commitment” to work together to establish a national park reserve by the federal and provincial governments and three area bands belonging to the Sylix/Okanagan Nation.
A national park reserve is a protected area that is subject to an aboriginal land claim that has been accepted for negotiation by the federal government.
A news release states the joint partnership will begin planning discussions immediately and consideration will be given to continuing ranching and recreational opportunities in the region.
“A new national park reserve in the south Okanagan would protect one of Canada’s iconic natural and cultural landscapes and provide opportunities to share this inspiring place with Canadians and visitors from around the world,” said Catherine McKenna, the federal government minister responsible for Parks Canada. “By renewing our commitment to work together to establish a national park reserve in the south Okanagan, we can conserve this incredible landscape for future generations.”
BC’s environment minister calls the area a unique place that many people want protected.
“We will work hard to make this happen, to preserve and protect the biodiversity of this special region, and for the positive contributions a national park reserve will make to the local economies,” said George Heyman in the release.
The chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band said collaborative efforts to develop a park started decades ago.
“In 2002, I along with Senator Ross Fitzpatrick and others went to Ottawa to meet with the prime minister’s staff to explore the possibility of a national park in the South Okanagan,” said Chief Clarence Louie. “More recently, in 2011 the Osoyoos Indian Band and Lower Similkameen Indian Band took the lead on behalf of the Okanagan Nation to develop a Syilx Feasibility Study to allow for the inclusion of the Okanagan Nation perspectives.”
The environmental group Sierra Club BC is commending the three parties for working together to create a new national park reserve saying it’s an essential part of responding to climate change.
“The intention for an integrated process by federal and provincial governments to work together with Indigenous governments is an important step toward earnest reconciliation with Indigenous rights and protection of critical ecosystems.” said spokesperson Mark Worthing. “None of these governments can achieve significant landscape protection acting alone.”
And Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee said his members are “celebrating wildly” after Friday’s announcement.
The organization said the area is home to 30 per cent of BC’s endangered species including badgers, rattlesnakes, bobolinks and burrowing owls.