Parks Canada has launched a two-and-a-half-month public consultation period to gauge public opinion on the controversial proposed National Park Reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
Kevin McNamee, Parks Canada director of the Protected Areas Establishment Branch, said there are several topics available for public feedback through the online portal until Feb. 28.
“Participate in discussions on the key aspects of the proposed national park reserve, for example ranching and grazing, fire management, visitation, and ask questions,” he said on Wednesday during a conference call with local media.
WATCH BELOW (Aired Aug. 30, 2018): Not everyone is in favour of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and the ‘no’ side is refusing to back down.
The proposal has been a political hot potato for 15 years, with environmentalists in favour of increased protections and some ranchers, hunters and recreational enthusiasts against losing access to the land.
The previous B.C. Liberal government abandoned the proposal after claiming there was not enough public support for the project.
In October 2017, the federal Liberal government, NDP-Green coalition B.C. government and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation announced a renewed relationship to explore the establishment of a national park reserve.
Some ranchers, whose cattle graze within the proposed national park working boundary, are calling for a legislative amendment to the Canada Parks Act to protect cattle grazing rights.
“We have indicated throughout this process that Parks Canada is committed to working with the ranching community to ensure that ranching and grazing would continue,” McNamee said. “We know that they have strong concerns with respect to use of the Crown lands within the park.”
Some recreational enthusiasts who are opposed to restricted land access and park fees are calling for a referendum on the park concept.
“The consultation process is not a referendum or a vote on the idea of a national park reserve but rather what is more important we believe is for people to participate in this process to help shape what the national park reserve would look like,” McNamee added.
He said Parks Canada is willing to negotiate some land within the reserve to be accessible for ATVs.
“We are looking at activities such as all-terrain vehicle use, and have indicated that activity would continue on the roads that transect the national park reserve in accordance with provincial transportation regulations,” he said. “But there are sensitive lands within this proposed area where we believe those activities should not continue.”
WATCH BELOW: (Aired Aug. 14, 2018) A proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan that’s been mired in controversy for years appears to be a step closer to becoming reality.
Parks Canada has hired conservation biologist Sarah Boyle as project manager. She was also on the conference call with local media, but has not been made available to participate in an on-camera interview with Global News despite being in the South Okanagan for three weeks per month.
“Why I haven’t been available is my priority thus far has been speaking to stakeholders and working to prepare for this consultation process,” she said.
In spring 2019, Parks Canada said public feedback will be compiled into a report that will include recommendations to government on a park concept, including a final boundary.
“The goal is to have an agreement on a boundary for the proposed national park reserve and an approach to the management of the land by summer 2019,” said Parks Canada.
“Once agreed on, the formal establishment of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen can begin.”