Possible South Okanagan national park lands suggested by province

A South Okanagan National Park has long been in the works but now the province has announced its intentions for three parcels of land lying roughly between Okanagan Lake to the north and the U.S. border to the south.

Mary Polak says 'chances are very good' of national park reserve becoming reality

First Nations and environmentalists are in favour of a proposed national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, but some ranchers, in particular, are against it. (South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network/Facebook)

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak says the province is a step closer to protecting lands in the South Okanagan today.

A South Okanagan National Park has long been in the works, experiencing fits and starts, but now the province has announced intentions for three parcels of land lying roughly between Okanagan Lake to the north and the U.S. border to the south.

Some of it is to be protected with provincial legislation, while the rest is on the table for a new national park reserve pending discussions with local First Nations and Parks Canada.

"I think in respect to areas one and three, the chances are very good [of a national park reserve going forward]," Polak told Radio West host Audrey McKinnon.

"I know when I had a very early conversation with the head of Parks Canada, they were open, where they haven't been before, to looking into how a national park reserve could co-exist with many of the existing uses that were a concern with previous proposals."

Parks Canada first floated the idea of a national park reserve in the area in 2003, but abandoned those plans in 2012 due to provincial opposition.

Hunters, orchardists, ranchers and recreational ATVers spoke out against the plan for various reasons.

But in 2015, the province became interested in the idea again and solicited public feedback on possibly protecting the land, drawing support from First Nations and environmentalists.

Environmental groups say the sagebrush desert ecosystem in the area is home to dozens of endangered or threatened species.

Polak says if a national park reserve doesn't come together the land could be protected by provincial legislation.

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West


To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Possible South Okanagan national park lands suggested by province