We don't need nat'l park

I’m a fourth-generation orchardist from Oliver, and I'd like to share a bit of insight to my views on this proposed National Park Reserve in our area. 

My late father Greg greatly opposed this idea for many good reasons, including the impact on agriculture. 

It is narrow minded to think that a national park is the only way to ensure these lands are protected for future generations. There are many other options that are much less invasive to our communities and cost much less to taxpayers.  

Ranchers are some of the most committed stewards of the land in this province. Their livelihood depends on their cattle's range being productive and healthy, so it is in their best interest to take care of the land.

A recent blog post compared the local proposal to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, so I decided to do a bit of research. I contacted a couple of different residents/ranchers from the area. Here's what I learned:

The town of Val Marie has a population of not much more than 100 people. Comparing the economic advantages to our area is a bit ridiculous. It’s like having three places in town to work rather than two. Most of the parks related jobs are summer jobs with only a few full-time jobs. Almost all the families that have sold their properties to parks have moved away from the area. Most of the eco tourists are minimalists and don’t buy much locally during their stay. 

They did not allow grazing in the park for about 20 years after it was established in the early '80s until Parks finally figured out it was having negative effects on the ecosystem. Now, there ar- expensive grazing leases, short term agreements, changes from year to year... meaning ranchers can’t always count on it.  

Ranchers are also limited in what types of meds they can use on their cattle in the park.

When the park was created, there were 11 species from the area on the endangered/protected lists. Now there are 27. How is a park helping? The only species they have had any real success with is the prairie dog, whose numbers have increased 4,500 per cent. In the prairies, these animals are considered rodents and pests. Other species such as sage hens are suffering greatly from the overpopulation of these rodents eating food sources and damaging habitat but because it is a national park, nothing can be done to control the numbers. 

In fact, they told me the budget for aiding prairie dogs in the park for the year is $500,000. Can you imagine your tax dollars being spent on protecting voles or other rodents just over the fence from your orchard or vineyard?

I was told that the park proposal in Saskatchewan divided the community there as well, and although a great majority opposed the park, it was still pushed through.

I told them a bit about how Parks Canada has seemed to avoid actual public consultation and they told me that it sounds just like what happened there. 

How long do you think it will be before they decide that your farms and crops are better off as preserved lands than productive agriculture lands?   

Top Flight Helicopter Training has operated out of Penticton Airport since 1951, providing essential training to many of our military and RCMP pilots, among many others. If this national park is pushed through, they stand to lose their primary training areas.   

I have also had the pleasure of chatting with a few park supporters, and I can certainly respect their environmental concerns, but I don’t believe for one second a national park is the answer. I feel the locals around here look after our backcountry pretty well. There will always be jerks who abuse privileges and there is always room for improvement. 

One thing that they have mentioned is that “We need the federal dollars to help. Our provincial government doesn’t budget enough for these things.” I don’t disagree that more money budgeted for conservation and preservation in our province would be fantastic. However, I feel it is selfish of these people to support a national park here. The hundreds of millions of dollars that are intended to be spent on this park purchasing lands, etc. could have huge benefits to all of B.C. in regard to conservation and preservation.

I am an avid outdoorsman and would love to see that happen.  Approximately $4 million has been spent on this proposal by Parks Canada since 2001. That money could have been spent much more wisely on preservation projects and conservation staff in the area.

There are much better alternatives to a national park. An LRMP (Land and Resource Management Plan) for example is one. This process allows all stakeholders on either side of the discussion to work together to come up with solutions to protect the environment and address all concerns. 

Whatever side you’re on, please take the time to let your opinion be known by doing the survey at letstalksouthokanagansimilkameen.ca

Jesse Norton    

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