The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, which submitted policy in support of a national park in the south Okanagan to the BC Chambers AGM in the spring of 2014, reacted positively this week to a new provincial government announcement.
Mary Polak, BC Environment Minister, said on CBC Radio on January 29 that the province is “a step closer to protecting lands in the South Okanagan today.” Polak announced that three parcels of land between Okanagan Lake and the US border either were to be protected by provincial legislation or converted to a new national park reserve pending discussions with local First Nations and Parks Canada.
The idea was a controversial one when first publicized in 2003 – the Province wasn’t in favour – but the plans, abandoned in 2012, are now back on the table. Polak spoke to the new reality of how a national park reserve “could co-exist with many of the existing uses that were a concern with previous proposals.”
There are many interested parties in the proposal: environmentalists, residents of the area, ranchers, First Nations groups, and the multiple chambers of commerce from Osoyoos to Vernon. All Chambers at the 2014 BC Chambers AGM jointly supported moving the new national park policy forward.
The Kelowna Chamber stated in 2014 that national parks represent important economic drivers, and supported the opportunity for BC to be the beneficiary of Canada’s next national Park. The Government of Canada has been in support of this new park for many years, only now getting backing from the Provincial Government.
The new park “would be a special contributor to our sense of identity and place, and serve crucial ecological purposes,” says Tom Dyas, President of the Kelowna Chamber. The Park would cover 280 square kilometres, and encompass Canada’s only pocket-desert. The park lies on a major migration route for birds, is home to 56 at-risk species, and includes shrub- and ponderosa-grasslands found in no other Canadian national park.
Dyas went on to say that he was pleased with the new provincial statement of support. “We would see increased employment, a boost in domestic and international tourism, opportunities for First Nations economic participation, and economic diversification when the Park is a reality.”
“So,” continued Dyas, “the chamber recommendation, supported by all Valley chambers, is that the provincial government sign an Agreement to negotiate with the Government of Canada that will conclude a fair and equitable feasibility process to determine the economic impact of a national park in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen.”