The time is now for South Okanagan – Similkameen residents to have their say on a proposed national park reserve for the region.
Sarah Boyle, a Project Manager with Parks Canada, brought that message to Osoyoos Council this morning, encouraging residents through her presentation to engage in a consultation process that involves both online and offline tools.
“This is the opportunity as members of the local community to have your say,” she told Council before working through an extensive review of the proposed park’s key aspects, boundaries and impacts on the local communities — including agricultural and ranching, hunting, helicopter and guiding tenures — and business opportunities.
“We’re in public consultation right now so this is really the opportunity for the public to provide feedback, comments, concerns to help really shape what this parks proposal will look like going forward,” she said after the meeting.
The proposed park reserve has become a contentious issue in the region, with camps representing “Yes” and “No” votes for the park lobbying hard for their positions.
Ms. Boyle said her efforts right now are not to persuade those engaged in the conversation but rather to hear points of view and also provide accurate information to the discussion.
“I know that theres’s a lot of opinions that have been developed,” she said. “I’m not coming to change people’s minds; I’m coming to give people accurate information. It’s about getting open dialogue going and get some constructive criticisms on what we need to consider moving forward if this national park reserve becomes a reality.”
The information gathered she said would be forwarded to a park-reserve steering committee and ultimately to the provincial and national environment ministers for consideration.
“It’s a requirement for cabinet to have that support to go forward,” she said.
Agency looking for public feedback
Parks Canada has set up a consultation process website that allows registered users learn more about the park-reserve plan, provide their feedback through a survey and participate in an ongoing public forum.
“We’re pushing over 1,000 right now,” she said of the number of responses returned. “We’ve been handling a lot more of these forms out than we’re getting in, so we’ll be accepting forms up to anything that’s mailed in and post-dated February 28.”
Council used the session to ask their own questions and relay concerns they’ve heard in the community, including wondering about the impact visitation would have on area highways and industry and how close the park would be to the Town of Osoyoos.
The Town is providing copies of a consultation package at its Main Street office. Residents can also get more information online or by contacting Parks Canada at 833-837-7535.