Letter submitted by Catherine McKenna,
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

The South Okanagan-Similkameen region teems with an amazing diversity of species– from prickly pear cactus, badgers, bighorn sheep, to rattlesnakes. It is a special place in Canada, a place of great environmental and cultural importance.

This summer, I had a chance to return to this special place and remind myself of its beauty. I sat down with members of the community to discuss the proposed national park reserve. It was great to speak with four generations of ranchers, conservationists, environmentalists and local residents and businesses. It was also great to speak with First Nations Chiefs and strengthen the relationship between Parks Canada, LSIB/OIB and the Okanagan Nation. Thank you all, for your time and for your insights.

We have the opportunity to do something extraordinary, something historic – to create a new national park reserve that protects an incredible place for future generations, invigorates the local economy, and that works for local residents and businesses alike.

I heard a variety of ideas on the national park reserve, all of which will inform the path we’re charting forward.

People have lived, ranched, worked, and hiked, biked, and camped in the area for generations. For Indigenous communities, it’s been home for millennia. This will not change. Local residents and businesses will not need to pay to access their homes or to use local highways. Visitors will be better managed than ever before.

The local ranching industry is central to the future success of the national park reserve. We will work with ranching families and the local livestock association to develop a mutually beneficial approach to managing water, Crown grazing lands, and other resources. Livestock will continue to be permitted to graze within the national park reserve boundaries.

HNZ Topflight, a world-class helicopter flight training facility, would continue to operate within the national park reserve boundaries. Provincial permits for helicopter access and training within the boundaries will continue to be respected.

Public safety is a top priority for the community. It is for me, too. Parks Canada has first-class expertise in wildfire management including prescribed burns. Parks Canada will work with the BC Wildfire Service, First Nations, and surrounding communities to support wildfire preparedness, management and public education. By working together, we can manage the worsening risk of wildfires.

Ultimately, this project is about protecting and sharing the natural legacy of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region for current and future generations. This region is an ecological wonder and one that I know we all want to preserve it for our kids and grandkids.

From December 10, 2018, to the end of February 2019, consultations will take place across the region to ensure that your ideas, hopes and interests are part of how this national park reserve is developed. Proposed national park reserve boundaries will be part of those consultations. I’m committed to this process and I am all about solutions. Please feel free to reach out to Parks Canada to discuss opportunities and concerns around the national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen: www.letstalksouthokanagansimilkameen.ca.

Finally, I want to extend special thanks to the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Government of British Columbia, and the community. We have a huge opportunity to move forward for the benefit of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region. Together, let’s take the next step.

Catherine McKenna,
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada