In which the writer proposes:

Splitting conventional wisdoms and inspecting for rot.
Wrestling with the status quo.
Weighing environmental and economic absurdities.
Disentangling metaphors.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


A guest piece this time from John & Mary Theberge,  biologist’s from Oliver B.C.

John & Mary’s recent book, The Ptarmigans Dilemma expands on grasslands issues in North America. We recommend the book and the opinions contained in their letter below that first appeared in the Oliver Chronicle September 11 2015. That book and Wolf Country: Eleven Years Tracking the Algonquin Wolves are available at


National Park Reasons for Concern - The Position of 2 of the Proposals Initiators

                                                        John and Mary Theberge


    We are 2 of 4 biologists who initiated the South Okanagan national park proposal back in 2002.  

During the public feasibility study, we put in years of effort to inform the public about its high priority, ecological rationale, including staging a 2-day public science forum to explain the meaning and values of a national park in this area.    

   But a problem arose.  The BC government pushed Parks Canada into the untenable position of abandoning its foremost principle of maintaining ecological integrity.  With cattle grazing, the lands before and after national park establishment would look and feel very little different.

   National parks are meant to preserve and protect nature in as unimpeded a way as possible, to be places where we stand back, for ethical and moral reasons, and let nature have its way. 

pic from barlee
   Livestock grazing, along with commercial logging and mining are prohibited, by Act, Policy and Regulations.  While any legal or procedural changes to accommodate livestock grazing in a South Okanagan national park undoubtedly would be restricted to this particular park, a dangerous precedent would be set.  History has shown that once you entrench rights in any park, national or provincial, the legal prospects of removing them are in doubt. 

We have already made far more concessions to outside commercial interests than has the U.S. National Park system. 

   For decades we have championed national parks.  As a university teacher, John has helped train many of the Agencys senior employees in ecological park management, and chaired a national task force for the federal Minister of the Environment on finding ways to complete the national park system. The minister wanted to be able to make national parks without being held to ransom by the provinces, as had happened so often before.  Here, it has happened again. 

   As ecologists, we recognize that livestock grazing, even managed as well as possible, is invariably extremely destructive in the dry southern interior.  These lands never supported bison, which are roughly ecological equivalents to cattle, and so are not adapted to the presence of a 1,200 pound grazing and trampling herbivore.  Delicate soils that depend on cryptobiotic crusts for nitrogen, sensitive riparian habitats, and the ubiquitous presence of seed sources of invasive plants, all make livestock grazing and ecological integrity totally contradictory. 

Parks Canadas statement in 2011 that they would manage continued livestock grazing in the park concept area in a manner consistent with ecological objectives and park valuesis scientifically absurd.

   Now, however, the game has changed with the provinces recent press release of a proposed jurisdictional split into national park and provincial park/conservancy lands, and its call for public comment by Oct. 12.   Taking a big chunk out of the national park proposal, BC would likely continue to despoil the lands it manages, but it may withdraw the offending caveat on provincial crown lands it hands over to Parks Canada.  A real national park, not a bastardized one, could happen.  Similar to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, it would accumulate gradually, probably over decades, assembled only as ranchers willingly decide to sell.  But no land included in a national park would remain cattle pasture.  The Act, Policy and Regulations, and the whole ideal of national parks, would stay intact.

   Unhappily, we do not know if that is in the cards.  Far too little information was provided in the provinces press release.  If a real national park without grazing is in the offing, we support it.  If not, we continue our objections and hope that people concerned with protecting and restoring the wild beauty of an intact ecosystem, will object too.

   With the current ambiguity, and especially after the years of unresolved debate over appropriate land uses, this request for public comment is almost insulting.  Ideally, BC together with First Nations, should make clear what land uses they foresee, and extend the period of public comment.  But related to a national park, at a minimum, Parks Canada should exploit the opportunity, right now, to determine if the province has backed away from the livestock grazing ransom, and issue a press release reassuring Canadians that it will not entertain commercial ranching in any lands that may become a national park.

John and Mary Theberge,                                                                                    Oliver B.C.

  This article and other background info on the park proposal can be found at