Vancouver – The BC government is inviting public feedback regarding protection options in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, which would include a national park reserve designation.

The arid South Okanagan-Similkameen region is one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada, and is home to 30 percent of BC’s endangered species – including badgers, rattlesnakes, bobolinks and charismatic burrowing owls.

The BC government’s proposed protection framework splits the region into three main areas, two of which are proposed as part of a national park reserve and the third as a provincial conservancy under the BC Park Act. The federal government began exploring establishing a national park reserve in 2002.

In 2011, after extensive public consultation, a National Park Feasibility Assessment Report was released which said the establishment of a national park was feasible and that federal-provincial national park negotiations should begin immediately. However, in 2011 the BC government unilaterally withdrew from the process citing a lack of community support.

Independent polling has shown strong and growing support for the park, with the most recent poll conducted in March of 2015 showing over 3:1 local support in the regional district of the South Okanagan-Similkameen. Support included 79 percent of farming or ranching families and 67 percent of households who participated in snowmobile and ATV riding.

“There are still many questions that need to be answered, and the park size is smaller than we’d like, but this development is a very positive step forward,” said Gwen Barlee, Policy Director with the Wilderness Committee. “We are thrilled to see that the Minister of Environment Mary Polak recognizes the incredible ecological importance of this region and that the provincial government is exploring ways to protect it through a national park designation.”