First Nations join effort to protect South Okanagan lands

The provincial government has three new partners in its effort to protect what it calls the diverse and unique lands of the South Okanagan.

And it hopes to get the federal government involved again as well.

Environment Minister Mary Polak was in Osoyoos Friday afternoon to announce “planning discussions” with three of the South Okanagan and Similkameen’s First Nations to move forward objectives outlined in a 2015 proposal to protect lands in the region.

“I look forward to continue working with the area First Nations to ensure lands in the South Okanagan are protected,” Ms. Polak said.

“I know the South Okanagan is a unique area that holds a special place for many people, and I am pleased plans are moving forward to protect this beautiful region for future generations.”

A release from the government said the provincial effort has the support and participation of the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Penticton Indian Band — the three Okanagan Nation communities most affected by the proposal.

Chief Clarence Louie, representing the three bands, said First Nations are looking forward to “working through all the issues that are going to be talked about on this special unique piece of the province.”

 

“We welcome the dialogue, we welcome the negotiating table and the many, many meetings that will occur in the upcoming weeks and months on pieces of land that are very important to so many people in the province of British Columbia,” he said.

“We’re willing to be at the table, willing to work through this complicated process and to see where we wind up in the future.”

The August 2015 Intentions Paper — Protected Areas Framework for British Columbia’s South Okanagan — sought public feedback on how to protect land in the South Okanagan facing intense development pressure and increasing population.

The engagement drew more than 3,400 submissions. Important to those who commented were:

  • Protection of cultural values, cultural sites, and traditional activities by First Nations;
  • The use of the lands for interpretation, education and greater awareness of aboriginal culture;
  • The expansion of tourism, particularly the growth in aboriginal tourism, and to expand tourism opportunities throughout the year;
  • The protection of species at risk, important conservation values, and maintenance of corridors for species migration as a result of climate change;
  • A variety of existing and new recreation opportunities in appropriate locations; and,
  • The protection of ranching and existing grazing tenures.

The Ministry of Environment started talking with the three Okanagan Nation communities about the priorities identified in the plan, which addresses three distinct areas in the region:

  • Area 1 – Portions of the area west of Osoyoos towards the Similkameen River, and south of Hwy. 3 to the U.S. border, including the Osoyoos Desert Centre, the lands around Spotted Lake, and portions of the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area sites of East and West Chopaka and South Kilpoola.
  • Area 2 – Portions of the area west of Oliver towards Cawston, and north of Highway 3 to the southerly extent of the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area.
  • Area 3 – Portions of the White Lake basin area south of Okanagan Falls and including areas in the vicinity of Vaseux Lake.

Areas 1 and 3, the Province says, will be the subject of discussion among the Province, the three Okanagan Nation communities and Parks Canada for possible inclusion in a South Okanagan National Park Reserve (NPR).

If a national reserve is not feasible, the  Province is prepared to open discussions with the three Okanagan Nation communities, to protect these areas using the tools under the provincial Park Act.

Area 2 will be targeted for protection as a conservancy under provincial legislation, the Park Act.

The province says a number of factors will be considered when developing the final plan, including Okanagan First Nation values and cultural sites, protection of species at risk, recreational users and protection of ranching and existing grazing tenures.

 

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