BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Park mess is for the birds

Columnist Richard Rolke expresses concerns about conditions at Coldstream Park

Coldstream Park is a special treasure.

A lush canopy of leaves virtually blocks out the sun as you take the narrow, gravel road to the bottom. Once there, peace awaits, whether it’s under the picnic shelter or as you stroll along the banks of Coldstream Creek.

It’s not uncommon to see deer scampering around as players run bases on the ball field. Toddlers are taught to make lots of noise in case a bear is just around the corner on the road. Vibrant red colours the creek every fall as kokanee enter the spawning cycle.

Given the personal attachment so many people have for this place, current conditions are disturbing.

About half of the park is fenced off by mesh, while grass hasn’t been mowed and weeds are sprouting all over. Dead branches litter the ground.

This is unfortunate given the park’s high use. Reunions and picnics have been sent packing. Newlyweds looking for that special photo have likely been disappointed. The playground sits vacant, just waiting for the giggles of children.

The apparent reason for the mess is an endangered western screech owl setting up residence in the park. As a result, trees could not be trimmed this spring.

“We don’t want to be responsible for removing habitat,” said Tannis Nelson, with the Regional District of North Okanagan.

With no pruning initiated, officials were concerned a limb could snap off and conk someone on the head. As a result, fencing  went up.

Obviously we all want to ensure the integrity of the environment, but in the 17 years I have lived in that immediate neighbourhood, this is the first time I have heard of a screech owl being around. Is this bird indigenous to the region or is it just a one-off passing through?

Just look at what happened in the 1980s when the herons suddenly arrived in Vernon’s north end and nested in some trees. Habitat regulations kicked in and made it increasingly difficult for industrial lots to develop.

Is this same situation going to repeat itself in Coldstream Park if the owl sticks around? Will vast portions of the property fall into disrepair? Is public access going to be severely restricted?

Once again, there has to be regulations to protect wildlife habitat, particularly for species deemed to be threatened or at-risk. However, RDNO needed to take action beyond putting up a fence.

Through consultation with wildlife experts, there may have been an opportunity to remove select branches or trees without disturbing the owl. Has it even been confirmed the bird has actually settled there? Perhaps Woodsy doesn’t give a hoot for his surroundings and has moved on.

The death of a camper in Christina Lake unfortunately highlights the reality that trees do fall and that can have tragic consequences, but how serious is the risk in Coldstream Park?  Is this just another case of liability running the world?

RDNO’s plans call for removing unsafe trees in September which means use of this park has essentially been lost for an entire season.

For many residents, especially those in Coldstream, much-anticipated summer activities have been put on the backburner or they have gone elsewhere.

Before next May long weekend, when the park gates reopen for another year, RDNO and  the ministry  had better develop a concrete strategy  for handling owls and public access.

If that doesn’t occur, they are going to ruffle a lot of feathers.