Friday, June 12, 2015

Not a Walk in the Park: understanding parks, impacts, and creation processes

By Maayan Kreitzman

The machinations of bureaucracy that go into establishing parks and protected areas are rarely considered by the general public. And let's face it, why should they? It's a long and frustrating process couched in the coma-inducing language of reports, briefing notes, and inter-government negotiations, only rarely breaching surface of the grey literature ocean to see the light of the mainstream media. Yet, national parks are the highest level of protection afforded to our land. They're important for habitats and endangered species, and also to rural economies and the best outdoor recreation in the country.

It so happens that over the last year I've been involved in two separate national park processes – first in Ontario, around the establishment of Rouge National Urban Park, and then here in BC, around the
South Okanagan Similkameen National Park. Both proposed parks are stalled. Even though the details are different, both situations (when you figure them out in depth) are symbolic of political divides between the local and collective, the provincial and the federal. The way in which we steward and protect land has deep political/ideological/historical layers. So in a way it's not surprising that both park proposals have sometimes become footballs in fights between politically antagonistic forces. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when parks leave the concrete and mostly exist in the realm of ideological symbolism, it is to the detriment of the actual landscapes, species, ecosystems, livelihoods, and communities at stake.

In this post, we are publishing two reports that were written by students in our lab in collaboration with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Committee (CPAWS), on different aspects of the proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park. The two reports were originally prepared for two graduate course taught by Kai Chan in our department (“Towards Social Ecological Systems”, and “Ecosystem Services”), though they were much revised and improved after the courses were over.

South Okanagan Grasslands.                                                                                                         Photo credit: Graham Osborne

Short background: after about a decade of assessment work and consultations by Parks Canada, the BC provincial government put the brakes on the park, citing a lack of local support, making the whole thing screech to a halt.

The first report, written for the course RMES 508, Ecosystem Services, developed landscape models of habitat quality and carbon sequestration using the InVEST software. They modeled four hypothetical management scenarios, from maximum development to maximum conservation. Their results showed that endangered species habitat, climate mitigation, and the provision of clean water and recreational opportunities would be enhanced by a national park. This adds to previous socioeconomic assessment  reports by Parks Canada indicating that a national park would likely yield significant economic benefits and jobs.

Ecosystem Services in the Proposed National Park Reserve for the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen Region
By: Alejandra Echeverri, Stephen McGlenn, Sian Mill & Janson Wong

The second report, written for the course RMES 510, Towards (or 'Exploring') Social Ecological Systems, considered the parks vs. local peoples narrative for several groups of stakeholders in the park process. This report found that the groups most often characterized as antagonistic to the park's creation (hunters, ATVers, and ranchers) cannot be fairly characterized that way. In contrast, the group most justifiably vulnerable to the formal appropriation of more land by the government are local First Nations, (represented by the Okanagan Nations Alliance, the ONA). Yet the ONA has engaged with Parks Canada and supports the national park as one way to advance their material, social, and spiritual wellbeing. The report also use a social-ecological systems approach to discuss how grassland restoration can have multi-scale positive impacts from endangered species to community.

The South Okanagan Similkameen Park Proposal Through a Social-Ecological Systems Lens
By: Maayan Kreitzman, Maery Kaplan-Hallam, Yaron Cohen & Ashley Cyr

PS, Immediately following this post, Maayan, Maery, and Kai had an op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun, which then led to an article in the Osoyoos Times. KC

1 comment:

  1. You describe this very well. Excellent work! Such news is very useful information.