'Diversity of views' a highlight of National Park report findings - InfoNews

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'Diversity of views' a highlight of National Park report findings

Parks Canada project manager Sara Boyle and protected areas establishment director Kevin McNamee held a press conference in Penticton as part of a three day public release of the recently completed public consultations report on the establishment of a South Okanagan Similkameen national park reserve today, May 14, 2019.
May 14, 2019 - 4:31 PM

PENTICTON - Parks Canada has wrapped up its consultative process, with an awareness of the many and varied views residents have on a national park reserve in the South Okanagan Similkameen.

The federal agency unveiled their "What We Heard Report" findings at a series of press conferences that began today, May 14, and run through Thursday, May 16 in Oliver, Osoyoos and Keremeos.

The first stop of Parks Canada project manager Sara Boyle and protected areas establishment director Kevin McNamee was Penticton, where the two discussed the report’s findings in a meeting with press this morning.

Boyle made special note of the “diversity of views” the report collected during the Parks Canada consultation process for a national park reserve in the South Okanagan Similkameen, which took place between Dec. 10, 2018 and March 15, 2019.

Parks Canada held 39 meetings between Jan. 7 and March 15, collected 2,848 surveys and held stakeholder group sessions where 627 participants took part as part of the consultation process.

The area’s First Nations are conducting their own ongoing community engagement process, Boyle said, adding 93 per cent of respondents were British Columbian residents, including 49 per cent from the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, eight per cent from the Central Okanagan Regional District, and 36 per cent from the rest of B.C.

Boyle noted several times the multiplicity of views and uses residents have for the lands proposed in the reserve, saying it was Parks Canada’s commitment to work with stakeholders, partners and local residents to find solutions to address concerns raised through the public consultations, “while respecting the Canada Parks mandate.”

She said Parks Canada’s goal continues to be to confirm a final boundary for the park by this summer, then begin negotiations to set the terms and conditions for the formal establishment of a national park reserve.

Boyle said the report’s conclusions identified a “spectrum of opinions” regarding the proposal.

“Parks Canada does take these recommendations very seriously. This report has been just recently released, and we will be sitting down with our partners, the Government of British Columbia and the Okanagan Sylix Nation to work collaboratively on how we will address these things,” she said.

McNamee called it a “complex process that does take time.”

“I want to make it clear, with the release of the report today, that no decision has yet been made to the establishment of a national park reserve in this area,” he said, adding the release of the report did not constitute a decision to create the park.

He also said a Memorandum of Understanding between the three steering committee groups - Parks Canada, the province of B.C. and the Okanagan Nation -  to define the park boundaries later this year would not be a legally binding agreement.

“To be clear, an MOU is a brief document, it is not legally binding. The only decision it would constitute is that the parties are prepared to move forward to negotiate an agreement,” he said.

He said an agreement to establish a park reserve would take several years.

“It’s really important I stress the point there will be no expropriation,” he said. “I believe there are still some that feel we may expropriate. To be clear, the National Parks Act prohibits it."

He said the agreement would be negotiated with the range of key issues identified, such as ranching, grazing, access to water, among others.

The fine points of how those uses will be conducted in the park would not be discussed until planning stages later in the process, however.

McNamee said the signing of the establishment agreement would be the key decision document, which was “several years off.”

McNamee said he’s been involved in the work of establishing national parks for three decades.

“Each one has had to take a different approach, and each one has had its own issues. This one is a complex one in terms of existing land uses and things that need to be dealt with,” he said.

"At the same time, it is probably one of the most significant opportunities that Parks Canada and the country in terms of a natural ecosystem, and grasslands are probably one of the most endangered ecosystems and landscapes on the planet, to work with the community to take lead on the kind of issues and challenges identified through this process, and hopefully seize the opportunity to establish a national park,” McNamee said.

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