By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
The boundaries for a revived national park reserve proposed in the South Okanagan have not yet been considered, but they won’t include private property of owners who don’t wish to sell.
That’s the response of Parks Canada to a series of questions posed by the Osoyoos Times reflecting concerns raised in the local community.
Recent posts on social media by park opponents raise fears about denial of property rights, loss of fire protection and other restrictions – all of which Parks Canada refutes.
“Those of us within the park region can’t keep domestic animals including cats, dogs, horses, chickens, etc.,” says on post on the Facebook page Locals Say No National Park Reserve, which only allows comments by local park opponents.
“We will have to have a permit to drive in and out, as will all our guests,” the post continues. “No firearms (will be) allowed to be transported through a park. We lose Willowbrook fire department as we would fall under forestry then, so home insurance will triple. We can’t change our property, i.e. add a building etc. Domestic animals, if they don’t grant a permit, which is rare, can be shot on site (sic). When we sell, we have to sell to the government only. At their price.”
The B.C. Ministry of Environment insists, however, that private property won’t be included in the park.
“Any future consideration of private lands as part of a park designation would only be on a willing-seller/willing buyer basis,” said a spokesperson for the ministry. “There will be no expropriation of privately held lands.”
Despite concerns from some residents in the Willowbrook area, Parks Canada says neither that community – nor any others – would be included in a park.
“The community of Willowbrook would not be within the national park reserve boundary, and as such local fire departments will continue to maintain their existing responsibilities,” Parks Canada says in its emailed response. “The local fire department will not be affected, so home insurance premiums should not be affected.”
Similarly, Parks Canada dismisses the suggestion that area residents and guests will have to have a park permit and pay a fee to access their homes.
“Area residents will not have to pay a fee to access their homes or to receive guests,” Parks Canada says. “Parks Canada does not include communities within new national park reserves.”
They also dispute the claims of park opponents that property owners would lose the right to keep pets, build additions or sell their property to people other than the government.
“The Government of Canada cannot expropriate private property in order to enlarge or establish a national park or national park reserve,” said Parks Canada, citing the Canada National Parks Act Section 15(6).
“Private lands would only ever be purchased on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis, based on independent property appraisals,” Parks Canada said. “The federal government has no jurisdiction over property rights on privately owned land adjacent to the boundaries of a national park.”
As for the claim of opponents that firearms can’t be transported through a park, Parks Canada also says this isn’t the case.
The law governing transportation of firearms is a federal law that applies throughout Canada, including in national parks. It is contained in regulations under the Firearms Act.
“If you are carrying a firearm through a national park to another destination, it must be unloaded and securely encased as per current federal law,” Parks Canada says.
In a recent letter to the editor, Willowbrook resident Sasha Hopp expressed the belief that her community is “within the proposed national park reserve boundaries.”
She based this on a map in the provincial government’s 2015 Intentions Paper, which suggests the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area would be considered for a national park reserve.
Although Willowbrook is partially encircled by lands that were considered by the province, the subdivision itself was excluded.
Both governments, however, say the “concept areas” shown in the Intentions Paper aren’t part of the recent announcement. The federal government was not part of the process that produced that paper.
“The previous provincial government’s Intentions Paper… is not the subject of the recent joint federal and provincial announcement,” said the provincial ministry spokesperson. “Aspects of the findings and recommendations that arose from the Intentions Paper may be used to help inform the renewed discussions between the governments of B.C. and Canada along with the Okanagan Nation on a national park reserve in the South Okanagan.”
The spokesperson said the conceptual boundaries in the Intentions Paper “were considered soft boundaries,” and he again emphasized that private lands were not included.
Neither government has outlined the process by which boundaries will be established except to say they will follow public consultations.
“It should be noted that no boundaries or park concepts have been considered at this time,” said Parks Canada. “As we restart discussions, our area of interest will primarily focus on the areas that were the subject of previous consideration.”
The concept area of the proposed national park reserve has changed several times since the idea was first proposed in 2002.
Original plans called for a much larger park that would include the Snowy Protected Area to the south of Keremeos.
The proposed area was considerably reduced when new concept areas were mapped in 2010, eliminating the Snowy Protected Area. That proposal included Mount Kobau and small areas around Vaseux Lake in the existing Vaseux Protected Area.
The provincial Intentions Paper removed Mount Kobau and the Vaseux Protected Area, putting the former into a provincial conservancy instead.
However, it added the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area to consideration for inclusion in a national park reserve. That area had not been included in previous proposals and has never been part of a federal government proposal.