An Especially Small World

By Beacon Staff

The school children from Canada and the United States smiling, shaking hands at Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park earlier this month reminded me of a popular ride at Disneyland. You’re familiar with it if you’ve ever sweated it out for a day at the California amusement park.

You float through a castle and more than 300 audio-animatronics figures dressed in costumes from their homelands sing and dance as you drift by. It ends with a triumphant rendition of “It’s A Small World After All.” The amusement park describes the ride as a global “ode to peace and harmony.”

It’s appropriately located in the Fantasyland section. Because while Montana children still get time away from school to enjoy gestures of peace, adults – at least in this area – are in no mood to hold hands, sing, dance nor ride on cruises together.

Whatever goodwill was on display to mark the 75th anniversary of the peace park is long gone. Montana’s two U.S. senators have recently written a letter to Canada’s ambassador to the United States asking for an international joint review panel to allow Americans to look over Canadians’ shoulder as they mull over applications for an open pit coal mine and coalbed methane exploration in the headwaters of the Flathead River’s north fork.

School children pass letters among themselves, intended to be kept secret and often include boxes to mark. The senators’ recent letters, in contrast, were much more public – copies of which were sent to many Montana journalists. The senators wrote, “Coal mining in the upper Flathead drainage would present a serious risk to a valuable conservation legacy in Northwest Montana, and would undermine the larger international effort to protect such spectacular places from irreversible damage.”

This prompted an equally public letter in response that told the Montana senators where to stick it, calling the proposal “unnecessary and unprecedented.” Ambassador Michael Wilson pointed out, “Canada has never participated in this way in the U.S. environmental assessment process.”

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell then joined in on the letter writing. While not completely rejecting Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s call for a meeting between state and provincial representatives to discuss environmental issues, he did take a not-so-subtle shot at the state. “We recognize in particular that Montana’s land-use and resource development decisions elsewhere in the state mean the Flathead Basin is the only remaining major protected area in Montana.”

We haven’t drilled in our slice of Yellowstone National Park, as far as I know. But Campbell’s letter is telling. If this meeting ever happens the tone is likely to be less than cordial. In fact, when Baucus met with executives of British Petroleum regarding the company’s intent to drill for coalbed methane in the Canadian Flathead, he told them they could expect a “knock-down, drag-out fight” and “a massive and unpleasant fight from Montana that will end badly.”

It’s nice to see that our U.S. senators are sticking up for the best interests of Northwest Montana. But one has to wonder if picking a very public fight with the Canadians was the only available avenue.

Not long ago, a part-time British Columbia resident wrote in this newspaper that “many British Columbia residents would vote in favor of both the Cline Mine and coalbed methane extraction purely as a response to the grief Montana politicians … have brought them,” not because they actually support the project.

Politicians partaking in public squabbles are not going to help anyone’s cause. Instead, at this possible meeting, they would be wise to bring singing, hand-holding school children along with them as reminder: It is, in fact, a small world – especially in the Flathead Valley.

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