Blue Lake South Kilpoola. Submitted photo

Commitment to South Okanagan National Park renewed

The South Okanagan has a renewed commitment to establish a new national park reserve

With one of Canada’s most unique habitats, the South Okanagan has a renewed commitment to establish a new national park reserve.

It was announced today that t three southern communities of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation, Parks Canada, and British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy are resuming discussions to protect lands as a national park reserve in the South Okanagan. Planning discussions through this joint partnership will commence immediately.

“A new national park reserve in the South Okanagan would protect one of Canada’s iconic natural and cultural landscapes and provide opportunities to share this inspiring place with Canadians and visitors from around the world,” said Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. “By renewing our commitment to work together to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan, we can conserve this incredible landscape for future generations. In so doing, we also honour and recognize the important role of Indigenous Peoples of the region and their traditional use of these lands.”

Related: ‘Stars have aligned’ for national park proponents

The South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network welcomes the announcement that they say will forever safeguard a rare and unique ecosystem.

As park discussions unfold, SOSNPN is strongly urging the inclusion of areas around Txasqin (Mt. Kobau) in park establishment discussions. SOSNPN also supports the inclusion of what they consider biologically and culturally important lands in Akspaqmix (White Lake Basin) and Nkl’pula?xw (Kilpoola and Chopaka grasslands) near the U.S. border as part of the National Park Reserve.

“These areas are incredibly important for biodiversity and habitat connectivity across the broader landscape, particularly in light of anticipated pressures from a changing climate. A national park reserve that connects these places will protect a critical piece of this unique ecosystem and will help preserve the values of this area in the long term,” said Jessie Corey, CPAWS-BC’s Terrestrial Conservation Manager in a press release.

According to the groups working collaboratively, the Okanagan is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Canada, and protecting the area would support recovery of over 60 federally listed species-at-risk.

“We know the South Okanagan is a unique place that many British Columbians want to see protected as a national park reserve,” said George Heyman, B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We will work hard to make this happen, to preserve and protect the biodiversity of this special region, and for the positive contributions a national park reserve will make to the local economies.”

Related: South Okanagan land protection plan moving forward

The discussions of a national park reserve will take into consideration the continuation of ranching and recreational activities in the region. It may also lead to a new partnership model for management of the proposed national park reserve.

“The collaborative work to develop national park reserve in the South Okanagan started decades ago. In 2002, I along with Senator Ross Fitzpatrick and others went to Ottawa to meet with the prime minister’s staff to explore the possibility of a national park in the South Okanagan,” said Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band. “More recently, in 2011, the Osoyoos Indian Band and Lower Similkameen Indian Band took the lead on behalf of the Okanagan Nation to develop a Syilx Feasibility Study to allow for the inclusion of the Okanagan Nation perspectives. The funding provided to these two Bands resulted in the formation of the Syilx Parks Working Group, which completed its final report on Dec. 18, 2012. Now, five years later we look forward to re-establishing the same process and implementing the recommendations of the Syilx Parks Working Group in light of the new advancements that have been made toward a new relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership, which promotes a lasting reconciliation.”

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