Moving Forward with the Strong Business Case for a South Okanagan Similkameen National Park
National parks represent important economic drivers, and this is particularly true for British Columbia. British Columbia has the opportunity to be the beneficiary of Canada’s next national park, which has been proposed for South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen (the “Proposed National Park”). This Proposed National Park maintains the continued support of the government of Canada, but to proceed requires support of the government of British Columbia. As support for this national park among stakeholders continues to grow, the provincial government should work with the federal government to ensure that the Proposed National Park serves the economic interests of British Columbians.
Canada’s national, provincial, and territorial parks represent a vital conservation of our natural heritage, are a special contributor to our sense of identity and place, and serve crucial ecological purposes. These parks, however, also play an important role in British Columbia’s economy. Indeed, national parks have been shown to be substantial and recurring sources of economic stimulus, particularly through tourism.
Beginning in 2003, a joint federal-provincial steering committee began an in-depth assessment of the feasibility of establishing a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen. The steering committee’s report, Proposed National Park Reserve for the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen Feasibility Assessment – Overview of Finding and Outcomes, which was submitted for ministerial approval in January 2011, confirmed that the proposed national park is feasible and recommended approval of a proposed park reserve boundary at a conceptual level.
The Proposed National Park would consist of 280 square kilometres that contain Canada’s only pocket desert, are home to fifty-six federally-listed species-at-risk (11% of the listed species in Canada), serve as a major migration stop for birds, and include shrub-grasslands and ponderosa grasslands found in no other Canadian national park. Furthermore, the proposed park boundaries provide the potential for permanent continuation of U.S. wild lands south of the border for a protected area of international significance.
The Business Case
The benefits of the Proposed National Park for British Columbia include:
- increased employment;
- stimulus for land development, business starts and expansions;
- a boost in domestic and international tourism;
- opportunities for First Nations economic participation; and
- economic diversification.
Published research on the Parks Canada website indicates the potential economic impact of the proposed National Park. In particular, if the proposed National Park met the average economic performance of British Columbia’s seven existing national parks, it would support 571 full-time equivalent jobs and would generate annually:
- $37.1 million in Gross Domestic Product;
- $25.62 million in annual labour income; and
- $49 million in visitor spending.
Importantly, there are essentially no costs to the provincial government moving forward with the proposed National Park, since the government of Canada alone, through Federal taxation, bears the cost of establishing and maintaining national parks.
As with all changes in land use, the proposed National Park could conceivably have adverse impacts on established economic uses of land, including ranch-based agricultural enterprises. However, it is believed that any such impacts can be suitably mitigated with intelligent planning, and will ultimately be outweighed by the tremendous benefits this park will bring.
Beyond the known conservation and recreation benefits, parks are significant economic drivers. Across B.C. national parks have proven their ability to generate millions of dollars in revenue, create long-term job opportunities and promote visitor spending, as documented in a 2010 report by the Outspan Group (The Economic Value of Parks Canada). Canada’s parks contribute 5 billion dollars to the Canadian economy and create approximately 64,000 jobs.
The diversification of the local economy is expected to attract young families to the area, and will contribute to maintaining the viability of local schools, hotels, and other services. In addition, designating this area as a national park reserve would guarantee public access to the land and associated recreational and health benefits.
Progress and the Path Forward
Since the steering committee’s report was submitted, the federal government has waited for the provincial government to follow the recommendation of the steering committee and take the next step toward bringing the economic benefits of the proposed National Park to British Columbians.
To its credit, the province has moved carefully forward. In August 2015, the province released an intentions paper that sought public feedback on a land protection framework for the South Okanagan Similkameen. Importantly, a guiding principle of this framework was recognition of existing uses and an explicit commitment that existing tenures would continue under the same terms and conditions and be subject to existing management policies. This provides certainty and due respect for existing business uses within the proposed park area, while opening a path forward to unlock the economic potential of a national park.
After carefully reviewing more than 3,400 submissions, the province released a consultation summary that confirmed strong support for additional protection in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, including the creation of a new national park reserve. That report identified the next steps as including the Minister of Environment considering the findings of this process and developing a report for Cabinet and continuing engagement with the Okanagan Nations Alliance.
On January 27, 2017, the provincial government announced that planning discussions to achieve the objectives outlined in its proposal to protect lands in the South Okanagan are moving forward with the support and participation of the three Okanagan Nation communities most affected by the proposal. The Province also committed to engaging with the federal government, along with the three Okanagan Nation communities, around the potential for a national park reserve designation in certain identified areas. Crucially, the Province’s message identified protection of ranching and existing grazing tenures as a key factor in the ongoing deliberations.
In view of the progress made to date, business should encourage continued strides toward the creation of a new national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government continue its engagement with Parks Canada and the Okanagan Nations Alliance to bring forward a national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen that respects future business potential uses in proposed park areas and works to achieve an acceptable business position from the types of businesses, particularly ranch-based agriculture, that could be negatively impacted.
 The Outspan Group, Economic Impact of Canada’s National Provincial and Territorial Parks in 2009, April 2011; http://www.parks-parcs.ca/english/cpc/economic.php
 Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society, Economic Value of Parks, http://cpawsbc.org/campaigns/south-okanagan-similkameen