(The following are concerns brought forward to provincial Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham, who was in Oliver recently to address her supporters. This letter has been edited for length.)
We hope you will oppose the formation of a national park reserve in this area as it will have a devastating effect on a number of small agricultural interests. Primarily the cattle industry that relies on the current grazing rights system to survive. The reference to Saskatchewan Grasslands National Park is touted as the ability for the industry to exist within a national park but the research has revealed otherwise. To quote Greg Kornfeld, one of the ranchers involved, “Ranging in the national park is in no way compatible with commercial ranching operations.” The ranging is only allowed as it was found that some species at risk have the necessity of grazed land to survive, one of those is the burrowing owl. The owl can survive in antelope brush that has not been grazed. That only exists on the east side of our valley and most of that terrain here has been plowed, planted or paved over for various commercial endeavours.
As the climate changes in this area the farms are increasingly being affected by the Ministry of Forests and Environment resistance to clearing of debris and silt build-up along the many creeks and streams. When on Crown land this seems to not be undertaken at all, much less allowed. A program is desperately needed to undertake preventative measures. It should be added that in a national park environment this would in no way happen. When on private land this falls under a costly and very time consuming permit system which has not been working. This should be changed to a regulatory system only, to prevent abuse.
The province needs to forcefully petition the federal government to uphold their share or contribution to the Gallagher Lake agricultural siphon repair. A failure here is imminent and should this happen during the growing season the economic consequences would be devastating to the area. It is hoped that the Town of Oliver officials responsible for this will be able to take you for a tour of this area barring that perhaps a video tour would suffice in showing you the absolute urgency of this project.
The insistence of the provincial and local governments to create bicycle routes along narrow, heavily used agricultural roads is a recipe for catastrophe and has caused a dangerous sense of entitlement. The creation of these routes without proper warning, signage and adequate enforcement is cause for great concern. At minimum the signage and enforcement needs to be established to control dangerous behaviour or ideally a tax or licence fee on bicycles and their events be established to fund segregated bicycle roads and remove them from the inevitable disaster.
A large number of the farms in this area will be engulfed or have borders on the proposed national park. While it has been said that the laws pertaining to a national park can be “tweaked to fit an area,” many of the necessary commercial farming practices will fall into the category of practices detrimental to the purpose of a national park and will then be governed by “practices adjacent to a national park” as described by the auditor general’s report, sections 7.61 and 7.62. This will cause great hardship on these operations if not cause them to cease to exist.
Many of these bordering or engulfed farms and ranches have water rights. Part of the agreement to form the national park is the surrendering of all water rights to the Syilx nations. That will be the end for many of these operations and that will not make for a willing seller scenario.
Effects of crime
The effect of crime on the farming community has become one of the highest costs to local farms. There is an urgent need to bring the police force up to a level that will allow for 24/7 patrolling. Regular night patrolling has not been done here for many years and the consequences have cost the farmers dearly in lost and damaged equipment. That often leads to crop loss as a result. Police resources are often redirected to other purposes leaving the area inadequately or totally unpatrolled at night.
An over population of deer is of concern in this area and as sustenance hunting is becoming more necessary for many low income and working poor an expansion of the hunting season and bag limit would provide a more reasonable solution than an outright cull.
By the playbook
The recent upgrading of the Provincial Fire Playbook standards has caused considerable difficulty for many small fire departments that serve rural farming communities and provide a valuable service by preventing small fires from becoming large by their quick response. The very nature of farming and livestock being rural and depending on fire prevention is making the need for help from the province desperate. Small departments serving 500 or less need help either in the form of funding or in a reduction of the standards, in particular the age levels for trucks and non life supporting equipment. I might add that most of the fires attended by these departments are of a forestry nature.
The ever-growing proliferation of regulation and permitting is creating an increasing load on the small farmer. These small farms provide the diversity in crops and nationalities that has created the absolutely amazing culture of this area. Large corporate farms can absorb the abundance of regulation but cannot provide the warmth and cultural heritage that has grown as a result of the small independent farmer. I realize that asking a government to limit and streamline the regulations it produces is like asking a lion to become vegan, but it is necessary for the cultural survival of our small farms and the health of our Canadian heritage.
Rick Knodel, Willowbrook