National park reserve in South Okanagan-Similkameen moves forward

From: Parks Canada

The South Okanagan-Similkameen region is an ecological treasure. A rare ecosystem that runs from rolling green hills to semi-arid desert. For millennia, the syilx/Okanagan Nation has called this region home and has been steward of the land, water, plants, and animals that make this place so special. It is home to 11% of Canada’s species at risk, including American badgers, flammulated owls, yellow-breasted chats, desert night snakes, and western rattlesnakes. As we come to terms with the worldwide biodiversity crisis, we can’t afford to wait to protect nature for our kids and grandkids – especially places as unique as the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

Today, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia and the syilx/Okanagan Nation signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formally work toward establishing a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. This is a significant step towards the establishment of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

The iʔ sc̓ax̌ʷtət / Memorandum of Understanding – which confirms the working boundary for the proposed national park reserve, outlines next steps and provides a framework of naqscn/knʔxtwix / collaboration as negotiations begin for an establishment agreement – was signed by the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable George Heyman, B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, and Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. Working together, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia and the syilx/Okanagan Nation are taking action to protect this iconic natural and cultural landscape for future generations.

Partners also announced the working boundary of the proposed national park reserve. The area is 273 square kilometres of natural and cultural landscapes in the tx̌asqn (Mt Kobau), kɬlilxʷ (Spotted Lake), and nk̓lpulaxʷ (Kilpoola) areas of the iʔ nxʷəlxʷəltantət (South Okanagan – Similkameen) area, including BC Parks’ South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area.

A recent global study conducted by the United Nations involving 145 experts from 50 countries combined with insights from Indigenous and local knowledge found that species loss is occurring at a faster rate than ever before in human history and nearly a million species are at risk of extinction due to disappearing wilderness and human impacts on the planet. As one of five countries that holds the world’s last remaining vast wilderness spaces, Canada and our provincial and territorial and Indigenous partners are taking action to protect our nature, with a goal of doubling protected space across our lands and oceans. These spaces are home to the plants and animals we all love.

Parks Canada’s places offer the highest level of protection for nature based on international standards. Parks Canada works closely with Indigenous partners and local communities to preserve these iconic natural spaces – from glacier-cloaked mountains, to crystalline lakes, to immense forests and wilderness beaches – and share these national treasures with Canadians. Protecting our nature preserves a fundamental source of knowledge, prosperity, and lifelong memories for all Canadians – today, and for generations to come.

Parks Canada and its partners are committed to continue working with stakeholders and local residents to take advantage of opportunities and find solutions to concerns raised through the public consultations.

For more specific information about the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, visit the Frequently Asked Questions on the Parks Canada’s website.

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“For generations, people have lived, ranched, worked, and hiked, biked, and camped in the South Okanagan and Similkameen Valley – and Indigenous Peoples have lived on this land and stewarded it since time immemorial. I want to extend special thanks to the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Government of British Columbia, and the community as we move toward establishing this national park reserve together. The region is an ecological wonder, a haven for wildlife and species at risk, and a natural legacy we can preserve for our kids and grandkids, so they too can experience the joy of spending time in nature.”

The Honourable Catherine McKenna,

Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“Our parks bring families and communities together. Our parks are also critically important for protecting species and ecosystems found nowhere else in the world. The Memorandum of Understanding marks an important step forward towards the long-term protection of the very unique biodiversity values in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, found nowhere else in Canada. It also highlights the strong partnerships built between the federal and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation, which provide a valuable opportunity to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

The Honourable George Heyman,

B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

“I want to say lim limt (thank you) to the negotiating team, comprised of representatives from the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, and the Provincial and Federal Governments, who had many meetings and spent hundreds of hours developing an innovative Memorandum of Understanding that sets the framework for future negotiations on a proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve. The work by the team stands up our language and our laws to uphold, protect and advance the Aboriginal Title and Rights of the sməlqmix (Similkameen) and suknaʔkinx (Okanagan) people.”

Chief Clarence Louie,

Osoyoos Indian Band

“The Smelqmix people have always protected this land. We view this process as a way to work with our partners to implement culturally informed management practices. We look forward to working closely with all our neighbours.”

Chief Keith Crow,

Lower Similkameen Indian Band

“It is fortuitous that as Canada contemplates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Bill C-262, that we collectively in the Okanagan have created a vital and demonstrable realization of the potential of the UNDRIP and true reconciliation. The Okanagan Nation is buoyed by the commitments of the Province in this Memorandum of Understanding to take seriously the implementation of the UNDRIP, in particular article 29 and the recognition of Okanagan conservation priorities.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip,

Okanagan Nation Alliance

Quick facts

  • In October 2017, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia and the syilx/Okanagan Nation announced a renewed relationship to explore the establishment of a new national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. The proposed national park reserve will contribute to a network of protected and conserved areas while helping to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

  • Parks Canada undertook broad and extensive consultations with local residents, stakeholders and Canadians to hear their views on the proposed boundary for the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and key aspects for consideration in its management. During the public consultations, Parks Canada met with 39 stakeholder groups representing a variety of interests and received feedback from almost 3,000 respondents.

  • As a next step, the Parties will initiate negotiations of an establishment agreement for the national park reserve, which may include land transfer agreements between the Governments of Canada and British Columbia and the syilx/Okanagan Nation.

  • The South Okanagan-Similkameen represents an area of significant ecological, geographic, and cultural importance with a wide range of recreation and tourism opportunities like hiking, camping, bird watching, and mountain biking.

  • The South Okanagan-Similkameen is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Canada. There are than 200 species of birds in the valley, 14 species of bats, more than 700 species of wildflowers and 200 species of grasses.

  • Enhancing the protection of this area would support the recovery of more than 30 federally listed species at risk, and over 60 provincially listed species, including American badgers, flammulated owls, yellow-breasted chats, desert night snakes, and western rattlesnakes.

  • Protecting nature is an important part of Canada’s climate plan. Nature-based solutions can provide up to over 30% of global climate solutions. By protecting nature, we protect important carbon sinks and ensure naturally-stored carbon stays in the ground.

  • In May 2019, the United Nations published its report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating.’ This report estimates that close to 1 million species are at risk of extinction and makes it clear that governments must take action to protect nature if we are to preserve biodiversity.

/Public Release. View in full here.