On a national park in the Okanagan-Similkameen
For a number of years now the national agency (Parks Canada) responsible for establishing and maintaining national parks has been examining the feasibility of establishing a national park in the dry interior area of southern British Columbia near the US border. At first glance this would seem to be a “no brainer.” There is no national park in this region and, as the National Parks System Plan notes, “this is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in Canada, and a significant portion of the region’s biota is found nowhere else in the country.” Just recently, however, the government of British Columbia has decided not to proceed with this initiative, leaving the federal government with no choice other than to curtail its efforts since, according to Section 5 of the Canada National Parks Act, the federal government cannot establish a national park unless “the government of the province in which those lands are situated has agreed to their use for that purpose.”
So what happened? Well, the issue became controversial and polarized, pitting those who view a national park as the best available option to preserve and protect endangered ecosystems and their species diversity against those who want to be able to ranch, hunt, cut wood, operate off-road vehicles, etc. in the area that would be set aside for the park. While various rationales have been put forward by the park opponents to justify their opposition, including destruction of homes and crops as a result of catastrophic firestorms and lustily breeding wildlife running amok, the real reason, I believe, boils down to a strong sense of entitlement on the part of the park opponents to be able to carry on in the future as they do now and to not have to curtail or modify their activities in order to accommodate some idealistic notion of protecting, for all Canadians, an unique part of our national heritage. Also, the opponents can point to various parcels of land in the area that are afforded some degree of protection — areas with evocative names like Kobau, Chopaka and Kilpoola.
The problem, however, is that the protection provided for these areas is minimal on paper and virtually non-existent in fact due to successive budget cuts by a provincial government that is currently struggling to pay for its social programs and is not strongly committed, in any case, to spending much money to protect the long-term integrity of its ecosystems. Add to this concerns expressed by the First Nations about inclusion in the process and it becomes a fairly simple decision for the provincial government to back off and accede to the wishes of lobby groups representing people who are generally more inclined that not to support the political party currently in power.
The net effect is that, for the present, the short- to medium-term interests of a relatively small number of people (especially when viewed through a national and intergenerational lens), many of whom are closely connected to the area of potential land acquisition have trumped the long-term interests of the many, few of whom are directly connected to the land in question. This will be seen as a fair outcome by some, but it will come at a cost — continued deterioration of a precious part of our national heritage. Since the issue, although firmly placed on the back burner, is not entirely dead, and since politicians, governments, and economic circumstances change over time, there is hope that if the deterioration is sufficiently gradual, positive steps will be taken to ensure the integrity of the endangered ecosystems of the Okanagan-Similkameen whether it’s through the establishment of a national park or through some other means involving governments and NGOs.