For Immediate Release
July 3, 2019
Canada’s Greatest Conservation Opportunity, the South Okanagan National Park Reserve, Takes a Major Leap Forward with a new Agreement
The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (EEA) commends the federal government, BC government, and the Osoyoos and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands for signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to negotiate the park’s establishment.
Osoyoos, British Columbia- A huge leap forward for biodiversity conservation in Canada took place yesterday as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement was signed in Osoyoos to begin formal negotiations on the proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Reserve. The MOU was signed between the federal government, Syilx First Nations (Osoyoos Indian Band and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, supported by the Okanagan Nation Alliance), and BC government. The MOU outlines the tentative working boundaries of the park, the next steps, and provides a framework of collaboration as negotiations begin towards an establishment agreement, which is expected to occur within two years.
See the federal government’s media release: https://www.canada.ca/en/parks-canada/news/2019/07/national-park-reserve-in-the-south-okanagan-similkameen-moves-forward.html
“This is the greatest conservation opportunity in Canada in terms of encompassing the greatest concentration of endangered species and ecosystems in the country. I’m certain that a grasslands and ‘desert’ national park in BC’s interior, between Vancouver and Calgary, will become a national treasure and be a win-win for the biodiversity and for the local economy. This park has been a long time in the making, I’ve been involved in the campaign on and off for almost 15 years, and I am more than overjoyed that the leadership provided by Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos band, Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen band, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and BC Environment Minister George Heyman, has finally resulted in the signing of an MOU agreement. I hope they can secure a final park establishment agreement by November, 2020 when Canada and all nations meet in Beijing for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to review, renew and hopefully expand our commitments to protect the native ecosystems of Earth,” stated Ken Wu, Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (EEA) executive director.
The South Okanagan region of BC is home to some of the greatest concentration of endangered species and ecosystems in Canada. Canada’s only "pocket desert" (the antelope brush ecosystem), interior grasslands, Ponderosa pine and Interior Douglas-fir ecosystems that would be protected by the park are home to 11% of Canada’s species at risk and 30% of BC’s red-listed (endangered) species. Rattlesnakes, night snakes, spadefoot toads, scorpions, white-headed woodpeckers, flammulated owls, yellow-breasted chats, canyon wrens, sage thrashers, pallid bats, spotted bats, badgers, burrowing owls, scorpions, prickly-pear cacti, and antelope brush all call the area home.
The national park proposal is supported by the Osoyoos mayor and council, numerous local businesses, recreation groups, naturalists, the Okanagan Nation Alliance including the Osoyoos and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands, and local and major environmental groups in BC and across Canada.
The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance has weighed-in heavily to help educate and mobilize Canadians to support this proposal, and the EEA’s executive director Ken Wu first spearheaded the campaign for the national park proposal while working for the Wilderness Committee in 2005, and continued to work through successive organizations including the Ancient Forest Alliance and now the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance to support the proposal over the years. Local conservationist, Doreen Olson, the coordinator of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN) has been the steadfast "rock" who has kept building local support for the park in the region through the entire duration of the campaign.
Since the park was first proposed, several major concessions have been made that have diminished some of the original grandeur of the park vision. Cattle grazing will be allowed to continue as a concession to park opponents, despite the fact that the native bunchgrass ecosystems of BC’s interior did not evolve with the heavy grazing pressure of bison like on the Canadian prairies (and hence cattle cannot be considered to be a surrogate management tool for the biodiversity-enhancing effects of bison grazing here), while the spectacular Snowy Mountain to the west was also hived out of the proposal several years ago, partly under pressure from the hunting lobby.
In addition, it appears that the White and Vaseux Lake areas which were also included in the proposal several years ago, with the largest tracts of low elevation grasslands including some antelope brush ecosystems (ie. “pocket desert”), are not being actively considered for inclusion by Parks Canada, potentially due to pressure from the hunting lobby. These areas, with the greatest concentration of species at risk, really must be included in the park, and conservationists will keep requesting their inclusion. Parks Canada should also look at including some riparian cottonwood and Ponderosa pine woodlands, shrub habitats, and wetlands along the Okanagan and Similkameen Rivers to ensure that the park includes a full complement of native ecosystems and endangered species.
In total, the park proposal has been pared back from about 100,000 hectares in size from its original vision, down to about 27,300 hectares today.
“We hope that the subsequent negotiations result in an expansion of the park boundary to include the areas around the White and Vaseux Lakes, as well as the biologically-rich riparian forests, shrub, and wetland ecosystems along the Okanagan and Similkameen Rivers,” stated Wu.
The South Okanagan Similkameen National Park is a biodiversity-rich and vital step towards helping Canada reach its international commitment to protect 17% of the country’s land base by 2020 (currently we sit at less than 11%). In November of 2020, nations around the world will gather in Beijing, China to negotiate a new international protected areas target for Earth’s land area at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s conference.
The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (EEA) are calling on the Canadian government to support an ambitious 50% protection target of all land and freshwater areas by 2030 for Canada and the world, including setting science-based targets for all ecosystem types.
The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance is also calling on the federal government to mandate that the provinces - who are responsible for creating most protected areas in Canada – commit to the national targets, including both the near-term target of 17% by 2020 and a more ambitious 50% by 2030 target, and develop ecosystem-based action plans to achieve them. See our media release from last month at: https://www.endangeredecosystemsalliance.org/news/2019/6/5/june-5-world-environment-day-conservationists-call-for-an-ambitious-50-protection-target-for-canada-by-2030nbsp