Many people are anticipating the results of the national park reserve consultation process, but there are two specific individuals who can hardly wait to see the report next week.
They are Doreen Olson, coordinator of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network, and long-time supporter Jim Wyse.
“It (the park) is not a done deal yet,” said Olson, noting that key negotiations with stakeholders, particularly First Nations, have yet to occur. In fact, Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band says he is neither for or against the national park at the moment.
Olson also pointed out there is still no firm park boundary established, only a working boundary.
But Wyse said the government has already stated its commitment to a national park in the South Okanagan.
Wyse doesn’t understand why some people are pushing to have public meetings when several were hosted by the Network eight years ago.
“The opposition guys showed up in their camouflage outfits and were threatening and calling her a liar.”
Olson said the meetings she organized were open to everyone, adding that Parks Canada also hosted their own in 2010.
“This business about they (people) haven’t had time to talk is just not true.”
Olson said it appears that a lot of people are confused by the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society’s objective. The group’s logo is also similar to the Network’s logo, she pointed out.
Wyse challenges the Preservation Society’s recent poll of 300 residents in the region, saying the poll was inaccurate, suggesting that 35 per cent strongly oppose the national park compared to the 27 per cent who strongly support it.
“That group has just deceived people . . . deceived and confused,” Wyse said.
He noted the more professional poll that McAllister Opinion Research conducted nine years ago was far more accurate, suggesting that 70 per cent of respondents supported the park concept.
As far as a referendum is concerned, Wyse said the Preservation Society should be careful what it wishes for.
“The quiet little folks sitting at home, 70 per cent of them (from a quality poll) have shown that over 70 per cent are in favour of the park.”
Both Olson and Wyse said it’s time to move on.
As for ranching, Wyse said that ranchers can continue to do their business as long as they want, noting it’s unusual for Parks Canada to make these concessions in a national park.
As for hunting, Wyse said Parks Canada gave up the Snowy Mountain area, which was in the original boundary, so that hunters could use that region to hunt.
“If a hunter has to go another 200 kilometres to shoot something, that’s not a problem for me.”
Both Olson and Wyse believe that once the park is established, the opponents will realize it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
Wyse said this is what happened in a grassland park in Saskatchewan. He noted there was a huge push-back by ranchers, but that has changed.
“The people who were the strongest opponents are (now) the biggest supporters.”
Olson said there will always be some divisiveness, but if the predictions are true, the park will result in a boost to the economy, conservation of species and a continuation of ranching.
“I can’t see there being a problem,” she said.
Wyse said ATV users will have to travel a bit farther afield to enjoy their sport, and noted that the province previously set aside an area on Oliver Mountain for ATV use.
Olson doesn’t believe there will be a fee to access the park, noting there is no fee to access Grasslands National Park or the one in Churchill, Manitoba.
Olson said it will take a few years to establish the park here, stating it can take up to 10 years to settle mining and forestry rights.
Wyse said the province is gradually selling off Crown land, so if the park doesn’t go ahead, the land will be sold and lost to private interests.
According to Wyse, Richter Pass rancher Ace Elkink owns a huge portion of land within the working boundary of the park. (Elkink previously expressed an interest in selling to Parks Canada in order to conserve the land for wildlife.)
Wyse said the truth is ranching is not a profitable business.
Wyse stated if this land is subdivided and sold to private interests, more hunting opportunities in this area would be lost.
Wyse said he wants to see the park succeed in order to bring more business to town, to fill empty storefronts.
Some people have suggested that he’s banking on the park enhancing his winery operation. But he flatly denies that.
“We are already full. We don’t need more business,” he said.
Olson then piped up and said, “Well, I think that everyone needs (more) business.”
Wyse reiterated that Burrowing Owl doesn’t need more business.
“We can’t sell any more wine than we make. We’re full in the guest house, and the restaurant is doing really well.”
Wyse added that he doesn’t have any personal gain whatsoever. “In fact, it’s costing me money supporting the park.”
Olson was asked if bringing more people (tourists) to the area will be counterproductive to conserving the region’s threatened species. She said the park will undergo more monitoring than what’s happening now, which is very little.
Wyse noted that proper infrastructure will be in place to ensure people stay on the marked pathways.
“They have a good budget for park wardens. In fact, a lot of the jobs that I expect will go to the Indians will be for official wardens to supervise and control that stuff.”
There has been some concern about potential expropriation of land, but Wyse said that is a big misconception. He referred to a recent letter to the editor by Rick Knodel from Willowbrook, suggesting that Parks Canada has powers extending beyond park boundaries.
Wyse said individual property rights and right-to-farm rules prevail.
“There is no way Parks Canada is going to have any kind of extension over public land beyond their boundaries.”
Wyse said the park’s working boundary does not even include the Willowbrook area.
Parks Canada is scheduled to release its public consultation report (What We Heard) next week. The first meeting will be held in Oliver at Frank Venables Theatre on Tuesday, May 14 from noon to 8 p.m. People can drop in during the day to view the report and ask questions of Parks Canada staff.
Allowable activities in the proposed park include fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking (in designated areas) and hang gliding.
Prohibited activities include ATV use, hunting/trapping, firewood collection, parachuting, mushroom picking and drone use.
*Photos by Dan Walton