By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
Parks Canada needs to do a much better job of consulting the public and explaining why a national park reserve is needed in the South Okanagan, says an Oliver man who calls himself an outdoor enthusiast.
“I’m an opponent of it right now as it stands because there haven’t been those answers,” says Shawn Hathaway. “They just made an announcement – that was it – with no real details.”
Hathaway, in his early 30s, has spoken up against the proposed park on social media and he’s contacted other park opponents.
But you’d be very wrong to simply dismiss his concerns as the grumblings of a stereotypical gun-toting redneck.
He’s thoughtful, well spoken and he’s tried to find the answers. He’s read the information on the Parks Canada website, read through the Canada National Park Act and he’s written to Parks Canada with probing questions.
But when he’s tried to follow up with Parks Canada to see when they’ll answer him, he’s received the runaround.
“I want to know the contact that my information is going to so that I can contact them and have them fill me in on what’s going on behind the scenes,” he said in a recent interview. “Are you answering me? Do you need more time? Can you give me some more detail?”
Hathaway has lived around Oliver off and on since 2003, but he’s originally from the Cariboo.
He doesn’t hunt but says he doesn’t begrudge those who do for food or other useful purposes.
“I’m a pretty avid hiker,” he said. “I’d probably say I’ve been on pretty much every trail from here to Vernon. I’m also a rock collector. I’m a general outdoor enthusiast, I guess you could say.”
When he posted a lengthy letter addressed to Parks Canada on the anti-park Facebook page ‘Locals Say No National Park Reserve,’ he received positive feedback.
There’s frustration in his letter.
“I have to say I am extremely put off by Parks Canada’s lack of inclusion of the public and communities in the NPR talks,” he wrote. “It appears all you are interested in is talking to the ONA (Okanagan Nation Alliance). Everyone else is just an afterthought or trivial in their concerns.”
The Osoyoos Times contacted Hathaway and agreed to seek answers from Parks Canada to summarized versions of some of his key questions. Parks Canada recently responded, but the answers lacking specifics left Hathaway unsatisfied.
A fundamental question is the contradiction between protecting wildlife and encouraging visitors.
“If you claim that these areas need protecting, then why are you promoting on your website ‘wide range of recreational and tourism opportunities like hiking, camping, bird watching and mountain biking?’” Hathaway wrote. “Since most of these currently do not happen in the proposed area already, why would you increase this? Is this not the very opposite of what you are claiming to want? Every single one of these, if promoted more, would increase the likelihood of damage, not decrease [it].”
Parks Canada responded to the Osoyoos Times that in managing national parks, it maintains or restores ecological integrity and provides Canadians the opportunities to discover and enjoy them.
“Canada’s national parks must integrate environmental protection with visitor experiences,” Parks Canada wrote. “The agency has successfully managed this balance and has worked toward integrity within parks while providing high-quality, meaningful visitor experiences.”
Parks Canada has a development review and environmental assessment process to ensure development proposals meet established limits and that environmental integrity is maintained, the agency said.
But Hathaway thinks it’s not enough for Parks Canada just to say they’ll maintain the balance without providing specifics. And he sees the two goals as strongly contradicting.
On the issue of public consultation, Hathaway said he respects that the ONA has an important stake in the talks for cultural and other reasons. But the broader community has a stake too, he said, pointing out that a park will affect business, farming and ranching, as well as recreational users.
And while consultations have been ongoing with the ONA, there’s been no disclosure of what those discussions have been, he said.
“The government has always been about transparency,” he said. “We’ve seen no transparency in the talks.”
If there were more transparency, it would go a long way towards bridging the gap between the yes and no sides, Hathaway said.
Rather, it looks as though the government is going to develop a concept in secret and only get public input after it’s all put together.
“Historically that’s never worked out for anything,” he said.
For its part, Parks Canada says it is committed to undertaking meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities, partners, stakeholders and the public.
“Indigenous consultation and accommodation are both legal requirements as well as best practice, providing an opportunity to increase the Indigenous voice in all aspects of the management of Parks Canada places,” the agency responded.
But Parks Canada insisted that consultation with the public, partners and stakeholders is also “crucial.”
There was extensive consultation beginning in 2004 and there will be additional opportunities for public input with details and dates to be confirmed, Parks Canada said.
Hathaway has many more questions. He wants to know what species are at risk and how a national park reserve could improve their numbers. He’s not satisfied with Parks Canada’s assertions that a park will help to mitigate or address the impact of climate change. And he has numerous questions about how First Nations will be accommodated by a park and how much of the park is subject to land claims.
But his key message is that Parks Canada needs to be more transparent with the process.
“Bring everyone to the table at the same time to really hash out what’s going to happen and be upfront about it,” he said.
Questions posed to Parks Canada by the Osoyoos Times and their written responses can be seen below.
The following are questions put to Parks Canada by the Osoyoos Times based partly on questions posed by Shawn Hathaway and partly on questions posed by others. The answers from Parks Canada have had minor edits for style and spelling.
1. There is a perception in the non-aboriginal community that Parks Canada is prioritizing talks with the ONA over discussions with local non-aboriginals. Can you elaborate on how other members of the community, including municipalities, business and recreational organizations and members of the public are being consulted in the preparation of the concept for the national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen? Are First Nations being prioritized over non-aboriginals in these consultations?
Parks Canada is committed to undertaking meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities, partners, stakeholders, and the public.
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 is given to the comments and perspectives that are shared. In particular, consultations with local communities and local Indigenous groups will play a key role in concluding the feasibility assessment for a national park reserve in the South Okanagan.
Indigenous consultation and accommodation are both legal requirements as well as a best practice, providing an opportunity to increase the Indigenous voice in all aspects of the management of Parks Canada places. The Government of Canada recognizes that consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities is not simply a legal duty; it is also about recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights. This is essential to achieving a strong, more prosperous, and economically inclusive Canada – prosperity for Indigenous peoples means prosperity for all of Canada.
Likewise, consultation with the public, partners and stakeholders is crucial. Broad consultation is also a legal and policy requirement that must be undertaken to seek input from interested parties on proposals for new national parks, national park reserves and marine conservation areas.
Beginning in 2004, there was extensive consultation on the feasibility of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan, including a provincial consultation process around the creation of a new national park and provincial protected area. During this renewed process, additional opportunities for public input will be provided, with the details and dates to be confirmed. Parks Canada will publicize opportunities for the public to participate in consultations on its website and through other channels.
2. Without asking you to reveal details of current negotiations, what are some of the high-level issues involving First Nations that need to be addressed and resolved before the process can move forward?
Parks Canada is committed to a network of national heritage places that recognizes the contributions of Indigenous peoples, their histories and cultures, as well as the special relationship Indigenous peoples have with the lands and waters.
Some of the elements to be discussed relate to work planning, developing a park concept, approaches to consultation and decision-making processes. When it comes to the design of the national park reserve itself, elements include governance, land acquisition on a willing seller – willing buyer basis, land use and other elements that have been raised through past public consultations and in the feasibility assessment reports that were completed in 2010 and 2012.
3. Can you provide an update on where the process is at now, given that we’re coming up to four months since the Oct. 27 announcement that talks were getting underway “immediately”?
For additional information on the timeline, please visit Parks Canada’s website: (http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/cnpn-cnnp/okanagan)
4. Some park opponents argue that the goals of maintaining ecological integrity of wildlife habitat and promoting tourism and recreation activities are mutually exclusive. Can you address how these apparently conflicting goals would be managed and balanced?
In managing national parks, Parks Canada maintains or restores ecological integrity, and provides Canadians with opportunities to discover and enjoy them. Canada’s national parks must integrate environmental protection with visitor experiences. The Agency has successfully managed this balance and has worked toward ecological integrity within parks while providing high-quality meaningful visitor experiences.
Parks Canada has a development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with the established limits and that the park’s ecological integrity is maintained. Parks Canada has a robust framework in place for environmental review of project proposals which may have an impact on national parks and we work closely with Indigenous Peoples to ensure their protection.
The Government is committed to preserving our national parks, expanding the system of protected places and contributing to the recovery of species-at-risk. At the same time, we continue to develop new and innovative programs and services to enable Canadians, including youth and newcomers, to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment. By building connections to these places, we can foster the stewards of tomorrow — people who know and care about these irreplaceable treasures.
5. Some opponents are arguing that most of the species and habitat at risk are on the valley floor, in areas that have been developed for agriculture and urban development and that these threatened species are not generally in the higher-elevation areas that in the past have been proposed for protection. Can you address this?
Parks Canada is a recognized leader in conservation and takes actions to preserve national parks and contribute to the recovery of species-at-risk.
The selection of areas for inclusion in the 2010 park concept has taken into consideration the location of habitat for species at risk. While the final boundaries for the park concept have not yet been determined, using the 2010 park concept as a base for the proposed national park reserve would include valley bottoms, particularly in the southern area near the Canada – United States Border, the South Okanagan Grasslands area and the Vaseux Lakes Area.
High elevation areas from the 2006 proposal such as the Snowy Mountain Protected Area were excluded from the 2010 proposal.
6. Some opponents are questioning statements both by the minister and on your website that a national park reserve addresses or mitigates climate change. Can you clarify the connection?
The Government of Canada is committed to preserving and expanding the system of protected areas, including national parks and marine conservation areas, and delivering on Canada’s international commitment to protect at least 17 per cent of Canada’s land and 10 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.
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. More protected areas and improved ecological connectivity will not only help species migrate and adapt to changing climatic conditions, but can reduce other stresses such as fragmentation and invasive species.
A new national park reserve in the South Okanagan 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. By protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems, Canada’s network of protected areas is part of a natural solution to climate change. Protected areas are safe havens for species, providing space for plants and animals to persist, adapt or migrate to as their habitats change with the climate. Protected areas also provide clean water and air, and act as carbon sinks, absorbing emissions that would otherwise heat our planet.
For additional information regarding climate change and protected areas, please visit Parks Canada’s website:https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/nature/science/climat-climate.
For additional information on the Proposed National Park Reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, please visit Parks Canada’s website:http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/cnpn-cnnp/okanagan