Proposed National Park Reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen
The Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia, and representatives from the Syilx/Okanagan Nation recently announced a renewed commitment to work together to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
The South Okanagan offers a stunning landscape ranging from near-desert to rich forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir that support an incredible range of rare animals and plants. This area has sustained Syilx/Okanagan communities for thousands of years.
A new national park reserve will not only help renew a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but it will contribute to a network of protected and conserved areas. These protected areas help safeguard Canada’s biodiversity and provide unprecedented opportunities for Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment, and contribute to sustainable economic development.
Canada’s network of protected areas play an important role in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk. The Government of Canada is committed to expanding its network of protected area and protecting Canada’s biodiversity by conserving at least 17 percent of our country’s land and freshwater by 2020, and by further expanding the nation’s world-class national park system.
The South Okanagan-Similkameen is where the northern edge of the Great Basin reaches into British Columbia, in the extreme south of the Interior Dry Plateau natural region.
This is one of 39 regions identified by Parks Canada’s national parks system plan as a distinctive component of the national landscape, but is not yet represented by a national park. From both national and provincial perspectives, this is an area of high conservation value and an excellent candidate area for Parks Canada to represent this region.
The goals of establishing a national park are to:
- protect the diversity of vegetation and landscape features of representative ecosystems;
- maintain the ecological integrity of wildlife habitat and plant species; and
- provide opportunities for quality visitor experiences, such as recreational activities and the presentation of natural and cultural heritage.
About the region
Within rolling hills and sweeping valleys, the Okanagan is one of the most ecologically-diverse regions of Canada. By protecting this area, we will help support the recovery of over 60 federally listed species at risk, including American badgers, flammulated owls, yellow breasted chat, desert night snakes, and western rattlesnakes.
The region includes a sagebrush desert ecosystem, and represents an area of significant ecological, geographic and cultural importance with a wide range of recreational and tourism opportunities like hiking, camping, bird watching and mountain biking.
The natural and cultural values of the South Okanagan-Similkameen have sustained First Nations for thousands of years. A national park reserve is a unique opportunity for Parks Canada and First Nations to work together to achieve conservation and economic objectives.
Creating protected areas
The Government of Canada is committed to expanding our system of protected areas and protecting Canada’s biodiversity. Canada is committed to conserve at least 17 percent of our country’s land and freshwater and 10 percent of coastal and marine waters through a network of parks, protected and conserved areas, and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020.
National parks and national park reserves represent the very best that Canada has to offer and tell stories of who we are, including the history, cultures, and contributions of Indigenous peoples.
The principal difference between a national park and a national park reserve is that the term “reserve” is used to recognize that there are unresolved claims of Aboriginal rights in the area. Indigenous peoples can continue to participate in traditional land uses and spiritual activities, and may be involved in cooperative management with Parks Canada.
Canada’s network of protected areas play an important role in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk. As climate change continues, it is important to take protective measures to safeguard this significant and diverse region in B.C. interior as a national park reserve.
Parks Canada will work with the Syilx/Okanagan, the BC Government, communities, conservation groups, private businesses, farmers, and tourism and municipal organizations to conserve and protect the natural and cultural heritage of this special place, and to see this national park reserve become a reality to enjoy and use for generations to come.
Moving forward to realize a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen will involve ongoing public consultation and working to address priorities and concerns.
No boundaries or park concepts have been defined at this time. Following the beginning of meetings between the three parties, next steps include the identification of park concept boundaries and consultations. Public consultations, including with local Indigenous communities, will play a key role in finalizing the park concept. Once there is agreement on a park concept, the next step would be the negotiation of the required agreements.
Work on creating a national park reserve in this region started in 2004 through the launch of an assessment, including consultations, to determine if, and under what conditions, a national park reserve could be established in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
In 2011, officials with Parks Canada and the province, and in 2012 through a separate undertaking by the First Nation, concluded a national park reserve was feasible under certain conditions. However, for various reasons at that time, the proposal was not advanced any further.
On October 27, 2017, in Osoyoos, British Columbia, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia along with representatives of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation announced a renewed commitment to work together to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
Parks Canada, the Government of British Columbia, and representatives of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation will develop a revised park reserve concept. Renewed discussions related to a national park reserve boundary will consider previous land use planning information compiled on the South Okanagan-Similkameen, including specific information from the communities of Osoyoos, Oliver, and Keremeos. The information gathered in support of the previous feasibility assessment reports will assist the parties in finalizing a national park reserve concept. As such, a new feasibility assessment is not required. These discussions will also take into consideration the continuation of ranching and recreational activities in the region.
As discussions resume, the focus will primarily be on the areas that were the subject of previous consideration by Parks Canada in 2011, and by the Province of B.C. in its 2015 protected areas framework proposal for the South Okanagan.
The creation of a new national park is a complex process and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, along with our Indigenous partners, will take the necessary time to ensure that all parties are engaged and that the appropriate consideration and time is given at each stage. Parks Canada looks forward to working together with the Province of B.C. and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region. Consultations, particularly with local residents and Indigenous communities, will play a key role in the process.
What this means
Parks Canada is committed to working collaboratively in the establishment and management of the new national park reserve. When established, a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen would protect and represent one of the most southern and endangered natural regions in Canada and enable this inspiring landscape to be shared with Canadians and visitors from around the world.
The proposed national park reserve would create benefits in the following areas:
- conserving one of Canada’s most unique habitats that has sustained Syilx/Okanagan communities for thousands of years;
- helping to protect and conserve over 60 federally-listed species at risk and their habitats;
- providing a level of resilience to this significant and diverse region of our country facing climate change;
- reducing the risk of wildfires and protecting visitors, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources of the lands through Parks Canada’s fire management program;
- allowing activities within the proposed national park reserve to be managed in a more ecologically holistic manner;
- advancing strong relationships with Indigenous and local communities through new partnership models for management of the proposed national park reserve;
- helping preserve the way of life of the Syilx/Okanagan people through the continuation of Indigenous traditional land uses and spiritual activities;
- providing opportunities for local residents and visitors to continue to experience and appreciate this environment;
- boosting domestic and international tourism; and,
- encouraging ecologically sustainable economic opportunities in the region.
- The Canada-British Columbia Steering Committee was established as a result of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on assessing the feasibility of establishing a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
- A feasibility assessment was initiated, and included a comprehensive process of First Nations engagement, stakeholder and community consultations, and the design, evaluation, and refinement of a park concept. The first phase of broad consultations took place, defining the scope of issues and opportunities.
- The second phase of broad consultations took place to examine a park concept including mapped boundaries. Over 1800 people attended open houses, and hundreds more filled in comment forms and/or emailed the project manager.
A draft park concept of 650 square kilometres and comprised of three components (North, West, and East) was introduced to the community, and feedback was gathered from open houses, forums, workshops, and meetings. Further discussions assisted Parks Canada in better understanding where common interests from First Nations, communities, the public, and stakeholders could be combined to build a common vision. Concerns and opportunities were summarized and incorporated into the shaping of the first draft park concept, and later, the modified 2010 Park Concept.
- A revised 2010 Park Concept was developed that presented a more collective vision and approach, including a smaller park concept with a revised boundary of approximately 284 square kilometres with two distinct areas – the Northern Component and the South Okanagan Grasslands Component. It focused on protection of the lower elevation grasslands where species diversity is highest and most at risk, included an adaptive management approach to grazing, and excluded large areas that were being used for helicopter training.
The 2010 Park Concept represented a significant departure from the earlier, larger draft concept. The changes to the size of the area, the adoption of an adaptive management framework, and positive steps towards re-engagement with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and local bands were an outcome of dialogue, consultation, and implementation of the feasibility assessment.
- In January, the Canada – BC Steering Committee concluded that a 284 km2 national park reserve was feasible and recommended that work continue with the Okanagan First Nations. However, the BC government determined that it was not ready to proceed with a park reserve in this area at that time. They did not foreclose the possibility of considering the park at a later date.
- In December, the Okanagan Nation completed a feasibility assessment for establishing a Syilx/Parks Canada National Park Reserve, recommending that the Okanagan Nation Alliance continue to work with Parks Canada and BC on the proposed park reserve. Following conclusion of this work, all further work by Parks Canada on the proposal ceased.
- On October 27, 2017, in Osoyoos, British Columbia, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, along with representatives of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation, announced a renewed commitment to work together to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
On October 27th, 2017 three Southern Communities of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation, alongside the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, announced a renewed commitment to work together to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan.
The establishment of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan represents a valuable opportunity to advance reconciliation and for nation-to-nation engagement with the Syilx/Okanagan Nation leading to a new partnership model for management of the proposed national park reserve. These discussions will also take into consideration the continuation of ranching and recreational activities in the region.
Parks Canada recognizes that the process has been lengthy and that uncertainty around the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen has been difficult.
Parks Canada has listened to and learned a great deal from First Nations, provincial agencies, communities, ranchers, and other stakeholders. A national park reserve in this area would be unique and would require innovative approaches that respect and celebrate Indigenous values and traditions, ranching culture, local communities, and the rich biodiversity and ecosystems that make this region so special.
It is important that the public is provided with an opportunity for input regarding the national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen and that time is taken to develop workable solutions.
The public will be consulted on a revised national park reserve concept and key aspects of land use management with the proposed national park reserve.
The purpose of these questions and answers is to provide a common base of information to respond to questions being raised by the public following the October 27th, 2017 announcement regarding a renewed commitment to work together to establish a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan.
Who within the federal government is responsible for the South Okanagan-Similkameen national park reserve establishment process?
Parks Canada is the lead federal agency responsible for the park establishment process. Parks Canada will continue to work with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) on topics such as Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL).
Is a new feasibility assessment needed, or will the governments approve the previous version?
The Canada-B.C. Steering Committee completed a feasibility assessment report in 2011 that was not approved by the B.C. government at that time.
The Syilx/Okanagan Nation also completed a Syilx vision for a protected area and associated recommendations in 2012, but dialogue on this has not begun.
Parks Canada, the Government of British Columbia, and representatives of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation will develop a revised park reserve concept and will consult with the public on this park concept. The information gathered in support of the previous feasibility assessment reports will assist the parties in finalizing a national park reserve concept. As such, a new feasibility assessment is not required.
How will a national park reserve impact local residents?
Parks Canada does not include communities within the boundaries of new national park reserves. As such, area residents will not have to pay a fee to access their homes or to receive guests. Local residents will be able to continue to access the backcountry within the park reserve as long as the activities are permitted under the Canada National Parks Act and there are no public safety or resource protection concerns.
Canada's national parks belong to all Canadians. National parks and national park reserves enable Canadians, including youth and newcomers, to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment.
Would there be an impact to private lands?
The federal government has no jurisdiction over property rights on privately owned land adjacent to the boundaries of a national park. Land owners and communities adjacent to the proposed national park reserve would retain full authority over their lands.
Furthermore, lands within the national park reserve would only ever be acquired by mutual agreement. As set out in the Canada National Parks Act, Section 15 (6), the Government of Canada cannot expropriate private property in order to enlarge or establish a national park or national park reserve. Private lands would only ever be purchased on a willing seller-willing buyer basis, based upon independent property appraisals.
Will cattle grazing be allowed?
Throughout the feasibility assessment process leading to the 2010 park concept for a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, Parks Canada has recognized the importance of strong relationships with ranchers and the local ranching industry.
As we move forward in determining the boundaries of the national park reserve proposal, Parks Canada is committed to working with ranching families and the local livestock association to build a framework to provide ranching families with stability and certainty on crown grazing lands, tenures, water, and other resource values within the proposed national park reserve.
Long-term relationships with ranchers are critical to the future success of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
How will fires be managed?
Syilx peoples have managed the landscape through controlled burns for millenia. Parks Canada is a leader with more than 30 years of experience in fire management and using fire to naturally restore and maintain the ecological integrity of national parks.
A fire management plan and a vegetation management plan will be developed for the proposed national park reserve.Parks Canada will engage with communities, neighbouring jurisdictions, and the public in a dialogue about the objectives and techniques of wildfire control and fire use.
Through its national fire management program, Parks Canada is committed to reducing the risk of wildfires to park and adjacent lands, and to protecting visitors, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources on the lands it manages. Extensive planning will help manage and reduce the risk of wildfire in the forests and grasslands of the proposed park, in the boundary areas between the park and communities, and on adjacent lands.
Joint planning, public education, active fire management, and training sessions will provide an opportunity to both prevent as well as respond to wildfire incidents.
The safety of the public, fire crews, park infrastructure, and neighbouring lands is always Parks Canada’s number one priority. When wildfires occur and present a risk to people, property, cultural or ecological values, Parks Canada coordinates its efforts with provincial governments, local communities, and other partners to respond immediately to fully suppress wildfires.
Will a national park reserve allow access for continued helicopter use and training?
Parks Canada stands by the commitment to respect provincial permits for helicopter access and training within the proposed park made during previous discussions on a national park reserve proposal in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
Will area residents have to pay a fee to access their homes by road or to receive guests?
Area residents will not have to pay a fee to access their homes or to receive guests. Parks Canada does not include communities within new national park reserves.
When the national park is established, will Highway 3 become a toll highway?
Even though Highway 3 may traverse the national park, it will not become a toll highway.
Will local residents no longer be able to access the back country because they will either be prohibited, or there will be fees attached?
Local residents will be able to continue to access the backcountry as long as the activities are permitted under the Canada National Parks Act and there are no public safety or resource protection concerns. Fees may apply to recover costs to maintain certain visitor facilities such as backcountry campsites. Parks Canada charges fees for services and facilities that provide a personal benefit to users. All revenues from fees at national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas are reinvested at the location where they are collected in new services and products and are used for such purposes as maintenance, repairs, or replacement of aging visitor facilities, as well as to enhance visitor experiences. Prices are set to ensure a good value to visitors as well as a fair economic return for taxpayers based on market value and rates.
Canada's national parks belong to the people of Canada. We want people to come to national parks to learn about them, to experience them, and to appreciate them.
How does Parks Canada enforce laws under the Canada National Parks Act once a new national park or national park reserve has been created?
When a national park or national park reserve is created, the Canada National Parks Act and a number of other federal laws and regulations come into force to legally protect the natural and cultural resources, including species at risk and other wildlife. Parks Canada's approach to ensure these laws are successful is first through education, outreach, and prevention strategies. The vast majority of visitors are willing to follow all regulations once they are aware of them. Ultimately, when people do break the law, park wardens will assess the situation and take appropriate law enforcement action. By combining education, prevention measures, and law enforcement actions, we are confident that we can continue to protect the natural and cultural resources within national parks, and to ensure enjoyable visitor experiences.
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