By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
The focus of boundary planning for the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan is on the area south of Highway 3, plus Mount Kobau.
That’s the word from Kevin McNamee, director of protected areas establishment for Parks Canada.
McNamee made the comment in a rare media conference call Tuesday that provided an update on the process of establishing a park concept, which should be made public in the fall.
But when asked by the Osoyoos Times if the White Lake area west of Okanagan Falls is now off the table, McNamee said no decision has been made.
“I’m not saying it’s off the table,” McNamee said. “What I’m saying is with the three parties that are doing this work, the focus has been on the southern component… We have yet to reach any decision with respect to the northern section.”
McNamee said the focus “continues to be the same area that we looked at in 2010, which is essentially the southern component between the Osoyoos side and the Lower Similkameen side.”
In 2015, the former B.C. Liberal provincial government released an intentions paper that expanded the focus area for a national park reserve to the north to include White Lake and government-owned lands surrounding Willowbrook.
“The province drew a fairly large area that included places like Willowbrook,” McNamee said. “If we do something in the north, it certainly won’t be the size of that and certainly would not include any of the communities like Willowbrook. So we’re still looking at the north, (but) no decisions.”
McNamee said that at this time, discussions between the three parties – Parks Canada, the B.C. government and the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) – have not yet established an agreed definitive boundary.
The area being considered includes Mount Kobau and the area around places like Blue Lake.
“(It) extends to north of Oliver, but does not include Fairview,” he added.
The conference call included remarks by Sarah Boyle, the recently hired project manager responsible for this park, but she took no questions.
Boyle said she is guided by the three levels of government.
“I will be the first point of contact for issues and concerns regarding the proposed national park reserve,” said Boyle in an opening statement. “Ultimately my job is to maintain progress on the establishment of the proposed national park and doing that by interacting and communicating with partners, stakeholders and the community, and ultimately listening to a diverse amount of viewpoints from stakeholders and using these to constructively improve the proposed national park reserve concept.”
McNamee acknowledged criticism in the media about Parks Canada’s lack of public visibility during the discussions since the three levels of government announced in October 2017 that they would be moving forward jointly.
“We’ve been a bit like the submarine where up till now all you can really see is the periscope,” he said. “But I can assure you that there is a submarine with a lot of people working beneath the surface. We’re hoping to come up to the surface with a park concept and consultations in the fall.”
The plan is to have the parties conclude their work and make recommendations on a park concept and final boundary by late spring or early summer of 2019, so that an announcement could be made shortly after, he said.
Asked whether this park would have its own legislation, like the recently established Rouge National Urban Park near Toronto, McNamee said it would not. Rather, it would be established under the Canada National Parks Act.
McNamee reiterated that ranching will continue in the national park reserve, but he didn’t provide specifics.
“It’s been very clear to us that continuing ranching and that way of life has been an important part of the South Okanagan,” he said. “We have made a commitment to work with the ranching associations and ranchers themselves to look at how we can try to achieve something where ranching would continue within the area while achieving the objectives of the national park reserve.”
He noted that a third of the southern component is private ranch lands, but tenures of ranchers extend beyond their properties. This is something “we are focused on.”
He emphasized that Parks Canada will not be expropriating private lands.