To the residents of the South Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. My name is Jesse Norton. I’m a fourth-generation orchardist from Oliver and I'd like to share a bit of insight to my views on this proposed National Park Reserve in our area. As many of you know, my late father Greg greatly opposed this idea of an NPR in our back yards for many good reasons. The impact on agriculture in and around the proposed area being his main focus. I am not the political / public figure that my Dad was, but I will do the best I can to present my thoughts and inquiries to you.
Recently a friend forwarded a posting to me from a local online blog that a Pro-park activist had posted. Some comparisons to the Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan were made about it being a significant economic contributor to the community and that the cattle grazing is excellent due to Parks rest-rotation grazing system. The closing statement was "This Park Reserve is far too important to be scuttled by a few narrow ranching and backcountry recreation interests”. I find this statement to be offensive because it is extremely narrow minded to think that a national park is the only way to ensure these lands are protected for future generations. There are many other options that are much less invasive to our communities and cost much less to tax payers.
Ranchers are some of the most committed stewards of the land in this province. Their livelihood depends on their cattle's range being productive and healthy, so it is in their best interest to take care of the land to the best of their ability.
I decided to do a bit of research, so I contacted a couple of different residents/ranchers from the area of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. These are some interesting facts that I learned from them:
The town of Val Marie (town that GNP is located) is a ranching/farming community and has a population of not much more than 100 people. Comparing the economic advantages to our area to that is a bit ridiculous to say the least. It’s like having 3 places in town to work rather than 2. Most of the parks related jobs are summer jobs with only a few full-time jobs. Almost all the families that have sold their properties to parks have moved away from the area which to me means that they have lost numerous families who were contributors to the community replaced by a few government employees that often do not stay in the community for long. Most of the visitors (eco tourists) are minimalists and don’t buy much locally during their stay.
They did not allow grazing in the park for approximately 20 years after it was established in the early 80’s until Parks finally figured out that it was having negative effects on the eco system. There now has continued to be grazing there but with expensive grazing leases, short term agreements, changes to agreements from year to year, different red tape to get through etc... meaning that you can’t always count on it. Quite a headache for a rancher that needs to graze their cattle. Not problems easily remedied.
Ranchers are limited to what types of meds they can use on their cattle in the park. eg: no ivermec which is a commonly used medicine to combat parasites in cattle. Yet parks Canada can use powdered medicines scattered around gopher/prairie dog holes to help cure them of disease.
When the Park was created there were 11 species from the area on the endangered/protected lists. Now there are approximately 27. How is a park helping? IT IS NOT!! The only species that they have had any real success with is the prairie dog whose numbers have increased 4500%. In the prairies these animals are considered rodents and everywhere else they are treated as such. Other species such as sage hens are suffering greatly from the overpopulation of these rodents eating food sources and damaging habitat but because it is a national park, nothing can be done to control the numbers. In fact, they told me that the budget for aiding prairie dogs in the park for the year is $500,000. Can you imagine your tax dollars being spent on protecting voles or other rodents just over the fence from your orchard or vineyard?
A story was told to me of rancher that was doing some fencing a way outside of the park when a couple that had just travelled through the park stopped to chat. They were surprised to see so many birds around as they had barely seen any in the park. Birds eat seeds out of the dung and around the cattle. One good example that cattle are a valuable part of the grasslands eco system!
I was also told by my new acquaintances in Saskatchewan that the park proposal there divided the community substantially as well and although a great majority opposed the park it was still pushed through. I told them a bit about how Parks Canada has seemed to avoid actual public consultation and they told me that it sounds just like what happened there. Made people believe that their concerns were being heard but instead just moved through with their agenda. They told me that they have learned to live with the park (because they really had no choice) but in their eyes they believe that the eco system and economics of the area would be just as good if not better without the park. It also bothers them greatly to see the substantial amounts of money being spent in the park which accomplishes nothing in most cases. One of these people told me that just recently they saw on the TV that over 40% of national parks are poorly managed! I know that parks say that grazing will be permitted in this new NPR but I’m afraid that the bureaucracy and added cost will drive some, if not all ranchers out of the area, leaving the eco system without its grazers and the hills around us much more vulnerable to fire. Not only that but they can easily just change their minds once they have the power and cut off grazing completely. Some ranches, if not all within the park boundaries will eventually sell to parks and that valuable agriculture land and heritage ranching families could be lost from agriculture and our towns forever. Our children (and our children’s children, etc) are going to need to eat too and there will be many more people on this earth by then as well. There’s a reason that ALR lands exist! (lands reserved for agriculture)
Many of you readers are probably thinking “I don’t care really one way or another. It doesn’t affect me”. I’m afraid it is going to affect pretty much every person in our communities one way or another!! All the towns affected by this park are agriculture based. Ranchers are farmers just the same as fruit and vegetable growers are farmers. The original proposals for this park years ago did not want to permit cattle in the park and even now they intend to purchase the ALR lands within the park eventually phasing cattle farming out, is what I see happening. I believe that Parks Canada is heavily influenced by many of these pro-park environmental groups. How long do you think it will be before they decide that your farms and crops are better off as preserved lands than productive agriculture lands? Creating a wildlife haven completely surrounded by agriculture seems quite ignorant to me as well. I know there are already animals around to contend with around some farms now but if a national park is in place there may be no means of controlling them if major problems arise. One thing that I don’t think a lot of people know is that if the proposed park area goes through, there is nothing stopping parks from expanding the boundaries without public consultation at all. So even if your properties aren’t directly affected now, they may be in the future.
Top Flight Helicopter Training has operated out of Penticton airport since 1951 providing essential training to many of our Military and RCMP pilots, among many others. If this national park is pushed through, they stand to lose their primary training areas which ultimately would put them out of business. A substantial economic loss to the area in itself. They are responsible for a large portion of the air traffic there which is crucial to the longevity of the airport. I’ll leave it to you to figure what that could mean for the future.
For those of you that are not tied to agriculture at all, I’d like to point out that it will be all of our local tax dollars that will be needed to pay for road expansions, hospital staff, police and other infrastructure in general for the extra masses that will be drawn here. Only for the same few months of the year that we already have many visitors providing the valleys aren’t full of smoke. The dollars generated by the park will be federal tax dollars and I’m betting Ottawa will have other plans for that money. On that note I would like to point out that I feel that the construction of just one more hotel and parking lot in the valley would cause equivalent environmental damage to all of the atv/bike trails that the environmentalists so despise in the proposed area combined. I understand that growth is important in today’s economic environment, but I feel we are growing at a steady pace as it is.
I have also had the pleasure of chatting with a few park supporters and I can certainly respect their environmental concerns, but I don’t believe for one second a national park is the answer. I feel the locals around here look after our backcountry pretty well. There will always be jerks who abuse privileges and there is always room for improvement. One thing that they have mentioned is that “we need the federal dollars to help. Our provincial government doesn’t budget enough for these things”. I don’t disagree that more money budgeted for conservation and preservation in our province would be fantastic. However, I feel it is selfish of these people to support a National park here. The hundreds of millions of dollars that are intended to be spent on this park purchasing lands etc could have huge benefits to all of BC in regard to conservation and preservation. I am and avid outdoorsman and would love to see that happen. Approximately 4 million dollars has been spent on this proposal by Parks Canada since 2001. That money could have been spent much more wisely on preservation projects and conservation staff in the area!
Some of these pro-park groups videos and websites trouble me with their referral to the park bringing in much needed tourist dollars etc. I can support their environmental concerns and with all of my heart, I love nature and all it has to offer but I refuse to believe that exploiting our lands for profit is a viable reason to invade our mountain with a National Park and its thousands of projected visitors. More people = a larger footprint on the lands. This statement alone should be enough to crush the idea of a national park!!!
There are much better alternatives to a national park. LRMP (Land and Resource Management Plan) for example is one. This process allows all Stakeholders on either side of the argument/discussion to work together to come up with solutions to protect the environment and address all concerns.
My Father Greg Norton spent most of his adult life being an outspoken advocate for wildlife and agriculture spending countless hours of his own time being our voice in these fields. You will not meet a more passionate or ethical person on either subject. When he passed away last February my family received many hundreds of touching condolences and offers for help. This is a good chance to help now. A chance to give a little back to a man that did so much for so many and never asked for anything in return simply by making your own voices heard. This was an extremely important issue to him, and nothing would make him happier than to see people come together to find a better solution than the creation of a national park. I ask you all to do the online survey ASAP ( deadline is march 15), put a sign up in your yard, let your view on this subject be known. Have civil discussions with your neighbors and think about realistic solutions to any problems or concerns you or they may have. Be proud of who you are and what you represent!!
Whatever side you’re on please take the time to let your opinion be known by doing the survey at letstalksouthokanagansimilkameen.ca I think this survey is a joke, as it is for all Canadians and I believe that it should be a decision made by residents of affected communities only. It is us who will live with whatever decision is made. It may be the only way that you may have a say of what happens to our back yard. There are many more important issues and problems a national park will bring to our communities that I have not mentioned but I am going to end now with a couple important statements. All of us on both sides care for nature and the environment. Please all of you take your kids and young people or anyone of any age out into the wild and teach them to respect it and enjoy what it has to offer. They are the ones who will fight for nature and defend our privileges in the future. There are many great things to experience out there and you won’t experience them from the couch or computer chair. The one and only good thing about this debate is that it has shown us how many people in our communities really love and respect nature in these areas! We just need to find some common ground and I don’t believe we need Parks Canada to do that!!
Sincerely: Jesse Norton