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South Okanagan-Similkameen national park reserve negotiations ongoing

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In-person negotiations have resumed over a controversial plan to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

In 2019, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Canadian Government, the BC Government, and the Syilx / Okanagan Nation.

“After the signing in 2019, negotiations started shortly after in the fall of 2019 and then came to a fairly abrupt halt once COVID began in early 2020,” said BC Parks Protected Areas Establishment Branch project manager Sarah Boyle.

“We did continue in virtual meetings, but a lot of these are in-depth topics that need all day, not just one or two hours. So, we did keep things moving, but it wasn’t to the extent that we would have liked. We are probably about a year behind in terms of where we’d like to be.”

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Parks Canada sent out an annual update in November with little new information to offer following the pandemic pause. The letter is part of a recommendation from public consultation for regular communication with area residents.

The three-page update was sent electronically to stakeholders and members of the public who are registered for email updates. Any neighbouring residents who are not registered should have received it by mail.

“We did use that time to do some more data gathering and that’s exemplified in the public update letter, where we were able to report back on some of the species at risk data. So, we kind of pivoted,” said Boyle.

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Meanwhile, the park boundary hasn’t changed, covering a 270-square kilometre plot of land that could stretch from Kipoola Lake near Osoyoos, around Mt. Kobau, and through to Taylor Lake near Fairview, Cawston Road.

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Park officials say private land will not be touched but concerns have been raised throughout the process about access to crown land for cattle grazing.

“Parks are special places, and they’re places that belong to all Canadians. And you know, BC Parks is committed to working with neighbors to build solid relationships based on trust and respect,” said Boyle.

Read more: Oliver, Osoyoos at odds over proposed national park referendum

Negotiations between the three parties are ongoing and there is no timeline as to when a decision may be made.

“We’ll be continuing on with negotiations with all the partners until there’s a decision that’s made to either proceed on establishing the national park agreement or not,” said Boyle.

“That has to have consensus by all parties at the table.”