National park opponents call for extension to public consultation period

Opponents of the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen are calling for an extension to the public consultation period, after a stakeholder meeting was abruptly cancelled on Tuesday night.

Parks Canada was scheduled to meet with the Grasslands Coalition, the British Columbia Wildlife Federation and the South Okanagan–Similkameen Preservation Society in Oliver, B.C.

The meeting, which was expected to draw hundreds of people, was postponed to later in the month “to allow the presence of senior officials from Parks Canada responsible for park establishment,” said a statement from Parks Canada.

The consultation period to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen wraps up on Feb. 28.

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Some groups are now calling for an extension of the public consultation period.

“It doesn’t give enough time, even if they have something by the end of February,” said Lionel Trudel, the director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society.

“What we’re trying to do is have a full understanding of the consequences of the national park, the terms of the national park and what it means to the community,” he said.

While Parks Canada officials have met with local councils and stakeholder groups, some residents are calling for a public forum for everyone to attend.

“In order to make an informed decision, in order to be totally open and transparent about the whole process, that needs to happen so that ‘John Q public’ knows what’s going, knows the ramifications, knows what can and can’t happen with the park,” said Tony Acland, a member of the Grasslands Park Review Coalition.

Trudel agrees a public hearing should be arranged.

“Everybody on the pro-park side, and the no-park side, and people like us, we’re just looking for information, should be present,” he said. “It should be filmed, it should be on Facebook, it’s what needs to happen for people to really invest.”

Meanwhile, Parks Canada has released more information on allowable and prohibited activities should the national park be established.

Allowable activities include fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking in designated areas and off-road vehicle use for ranchers.

Prohibited activities include recreational off-road vehicle use, hunting/trapping, firewood collection, parachuting and base jumping, mushroom picking and drone use.

Some ranchers still fear losing grazing tenures on Crown land despite assurances from Parks Canada.

“We’re worried that grazing will be allowed for a short time and then it will be eliminated or reduced,” said Dave Casorso on Wednesday.

“Ranching families within the proposed national park reserve will be able to continue operating as they are today with a similar regulatory framework,” said a consultation paper released by Parks Canada.

Some outdoor enthusiasts remain opposed to any infringement on their way of life.

“Simply, we lose access to that whole mountain smack dab in the middle of three small communities,” said resident Jesse Norton.

Area residents say there are still many questions about the implications of a national park.

Parks Canada says the protected areas help safeguard Canada’s biodiversity and “provide unprecedented opportunities for Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment, and contribute to sustainable economic development.”

Parks Canada did not make project manager Sarah Boyle available for an interview with Global Okanagan on Wednesday, nor has it confirmed if an extension to the public consultation period will be implemented or if a public forum will be held.

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