Governments agree to national park reserve Memorandum for Okanagan grasslands leaves several questions unanswered


OSOYOOS—A memorandum of understanding signed July 2 by representatives of the federal and provincial governments and the Okanagan Nation marks a step forward for a proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan. However, it does nothing to

resolve ongoing concerns among ranchers and producers regarding agriculture in the reserve, a designation that’s a step below a national park. The reserve would cover an area of approximately 65,000 acres. Brian Thomas, chair of the Southern Interior Stockmen’s Association, attended the memorandum’s signing by the federal and provincial environment ministers, Catherine McKenna and George Heyman, respectively, and chiefs Clarence Louise of the Osoyoos and Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen bands on behalf of the Okanagan Nation. “McKenna said that they

were going to work with the ranchers, but that’s all they said,” said Thomas. “There wasn’t very much information coming out of it.”

The memorandum states

that it’s simply, “an expression of the mutual intentions and goodwill” that’s “not intended to create, recognize, affect or deny any rights, claims, positions or obligations of any

of the Parties.” However, it establishes an interim agreement pending negotiation of “a proposed national park reserve establishment agreement.” The agreement wouldn’t

affect privately held properties, which cannot be expropriated for the purposes of a reserve. However, it could affect uses of Crown land, depending on the final terms of the agreement.

A consultation took place this spring to determine a path forward, and agricultural impacts drew significant comment. Approximately 10,000 acres of the proposed reserve lie within the Agricultural Land Reserve. Water and grazing rights are other issues, not to mention access to the reserve. “The issue of autonomy

over use of private lands is a significant concern among fruit tree growers,” a May summary of the consultation notes. “Ranchers in particular were concerned about how increased access would impact their cattle, and referred to cattle being placed under stress from off-road vehicles users, hikers and bikers.”

The loss of protected

agricultural land to federal control was another issue. BC’s Agricultural Land Commission has long maintained that any loss of protected farmland would be a grave concern, noting in a 2008 letter that it

could eliminate 1.5% of BC’s grazing lands. Comments from ranchers in this spring’s consultation argued that grazing isn’t incompatible with environmental stewardship, enhancing biodiversity. “Concerns were voiced

around maintaining the ranching way of life and potential impacts to economic contributions from ranching in the region,” the report added. George Bush, the Regional

District of Okanagan- Similkameen’s director for electoral area B, shares those concerns. “The problem is that nobody can guarantee in the future that grazing will continue,” he says. “They’ll tell us that now, but 100 years

from now it might be a totally different story with a different government.” A former partner in Bush

Bros. Farms, which grew fruit and vegetables and ran a cattle-feeding operation, Bush now grows hay but says the land has historically supported all kinds of food production. “I think it’s a devastating

blow for agriculture,” he says. “We’d be losing control of about 10,000 acres of Agricultural Land Reserve, as well as another 60,000 or 70,000 acres of food- producing land, which is cattle grazing, deer hunting, or anything like that.” Use of the land for the

provision of food is recognized in the

HUB for blueberries Completed in early June,

the packaging hub means one facility where fruit goes from field to customer. It stands next to the

packing plant, which handles a million pounds of berries a day at peak season. The line runs with a complement of 10 to 12 people. The fruit is pre-cooled to 8 to 10 degrees when it arrives, which can take up to four hours. It’s sorted and graded and gradually chilled to near zero degrees Celsius. The gradual cooling limits



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memorandum signed last month, however. It affirms “the continuation of fishing, hunting, water access and management, gathering, foods and medicines, and associated management practises, and provisions for the mitigation of any impacts to sməlqmix / suknaʔkinx (Okanagan Nation) for traditional use and harvesting,” protects the traditional use of ochre, obsidian and other minerals, and pledges to respect “range and other historic and current tenures and practices.” What that could look like is another matter. A timeline for the negotiations has not been set, and Parks Canada was unable to provide a comment by deadline.

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damage to the fruit and mitigates degradation during shipping, which occurs within 24 hours of its arrival from the field.

Berries can be shipped in 1,500-pound totes or 30- pound cases, depending on what the customer wants. Most will be shipped to a third-party warehouse because Valley Select has limited space. The plant’s IQF (individually

quick frozen) line

automatically separates the fruit as it comes in from the

field, and removes the stems and other debris prior to it entering for the tunnels where it’s washed and frozen. The totes and lugs it arrives in are washed and returned to the growers.

A new addition this year is

a bagging line that packages fruit in two package sizes. The line eliminates the need to ship them out for bagging. While the plant was quiet during the tour, staff were busy getting ready to resume processing berries later in the day. The early start to the season had Drew, and owner Paul Sahota, optimistic. However, the onset of harvest meant many local growers skipped the second day of the summit to tend to the harvest, which overlapped with the raspberry harvest. Fraser Valley berries hadn’t

yet showed up in Save-On- Foods in Langley, however, where the tour saw a display of California berries and were treated to the breadth of the retailer’s blueberry offerings. Berries represent 32% of

the berry category and 10% of the total produce category, staff said, with sales totalling $7 million annually. Save-On also showcased

value-added products including juice, snack bars and chocolate-coated blueberries from Wild Coast Fruit Co. in Pitt Meadows. The range of products underscored the market opportunities Drew believes exists for blueberries, if producers have the vision to pursue them. “We’re always trying to expand our region, and we also want to expand our consumption,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity for all of us.”

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