Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen

To support research, education, law reform outcomes associated with South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program's work over three years.

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Similkameen Valley Develops a Strategic Plan

Between 2001 and 2006 the population of the Similkameen Valley increased by 5.7%, an unprecedented amount of growth for the region. As a nationally recognized biodiversity hotspot, it is no surprise that the Valley is a destination for people seeking rural lifestyles in high quality natural environments. Even though the new migrants brought economic development, improved services, and new ideas to the region, the influx of people put a strain on the Similkameen Valley’s rare species and habitats, which are iconic of BC’s Southern interior. Many of the ecosystems that exist in the 7,600 sq km narrow valley are designated by the government as being at risk, making them especially sensitive to human settlement. Additionally, the primary economic activities that support Similkameen residents are ranching and agriculture, both of which depend on the Valley’s diverse topography and rich natural resources. In order to properly manage the current development and guide future growth in the Valley in a way that enhances the region’s unique ecology, the Similkameen Valley Planning Society came together to create aStrategy for a Sustainable Similkameen Valley.

Since developing a truly sustainable strategy required Similkameen Valley residents to act as a cohesive community, local  engagement was a major component of the process. The Valley is comprised of various distinct groups that derive their livelihoods from different economic activities and exist quite independently, so historically there was a limited need for unified community planning. “We started working with the Similkameen Valley Planning Society to create more continuity between the groups,” explained Brad Hope, Area Director of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. “Prior to the project, there was minimal communication between the communities, which is now troubling because we are all mutually affected by changes to the Valley whether they are social, environmental, or economic.” In order to facilitate this collaboration, a panel of 16 community volunteers representative of the diverse demographics was put together to work with the strategic planning facilitators and local project manager. There was also community input through local and Valley-wide community meetings. Having found commonalities that they did not realize existed, the Similkameen residents were able to envision a mission and develop objectives to act as guiding principles for future development in the region. 

Once the panel agreed to the community’s long term mission and objectives, it identified the necessary steps to achieve these goals. The team used a planning process called Multiple Scenario Strategic Planning, ideal for conditions of considerable uncertainty and complexity and where reliance is placed on the local community for solutions. Based on extensive public input, Valley residents agreed that the most likely future scenario in the Similkameen Valley would be Gradual Shift, characterized by moderate migration to rural areas; minimal citizen participation in high level government decision-making regarding issues of sustainability; a slow shift towards sustainable values and behaviors; and slow economic development in the area. These predictions about future growth and development in the region informed the crafting of the strategy.

While these drivers are only anticipated and since the Valley has limited influence on them, the Similkameen Valley Planning Society and everyone involved is confident that the community is in a much better position to deal with any changes in the region. “No matter what happens, after undergoing this process we have a better idea about our strengths and weaknesses,” says Hope. “We have a much better system of communication and identifying those changes that take place.” In this regard, the Strategy for a Sustainable Similkameen Valley is a living document meant to evolve as the region progresses.

The Real Estate Foundation supported the Similkameen Valley Planning Society throughout the strategic planning process with grants totaling $40,550. The project aligns with our research and education mandates, focusing on sustainable land use planning. The Similkameen Valley is taking a regional approach to managing its growth and is an example for other rural regions in BC.

To read the Strategy for a Sustainable Similkameen Valley click here.

- Elysha Ames