UN to Send Mission to Explore Environmental Threats to Glacier-Waterton

By Beacon Staff

The United Nations plans to send a fact-finding mission to Canada to investigate environmental threats to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park due to proposed coal and energy mining activity in the area.

Representatives of U.S. and Canadian conservation groups opposed to mining activity that could harm the water quality and wildlife of the Flathead River Valley are in Seville, Spain, this week for a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), petitioning to have Waterton-Glacier declared a “World Heritage Site in Danger.”

By a unanimous vote, the 21-country panel that governs those issues decided Friday to send a mission to the region to “evaluate and provide recommendations on the requirements for ensuring the protection” of Waterton-Glacier, according to Will Hammerquist of the National Parks Conservation Association, who has been attending the conference in Seville this week. The committee requested a report on the potential impacts of proposed natural resource development operations in the Flathead River Valley due Feb. 1 of next year.

Hammerquist called the decision to send a UN investigation team to the region “an important step forward” toward getting the Waterton-Glacier declared “endangered.”

“The United Nations recognizes that both the United States and Canada have an obligation to protect the world’s first peace park,” Hammerquist said. “People all over the world love that park and that’s what you see today.”

UNESCO declared Waterton-Glacier a World Heritage Site in 1995, making it one of 878 locations globally considered to have extraordinary cultural or natural value. About 30 World Heritage sites have been declared endangered, and the designation would make Waterton-Glacier the only currently endangered site in North America.

Such a designation brings heightened awareness to environmental conflicts in a given area and tends to make such issues more sensitive. The designation of Yellowstone National Park as a World Heritage Site in Danger in the mid-1990s was a key part of the effort there by conservation groups to successfully stop a proposed gold mining operation called the New World Mine.

Conservation groups, led by the NPCA and Canada-based Wildsight, have been trying to raise awareness and increase opposition for years to proposed coal mine, and coal bed methane drilling operations in southeastern British Columbia. Such natural resource development north of Waterton-Glacier would, these groups say, harm the wildlife, water quality and scenery of the so-called “Crown of the Continent” region.

Canada’s Cline Mining Corp. has been exploring the possibility of a coalmine in the area, and the energy company BP is also conducting studies for its proposed Mist Mountain coal bed methane drilling operation. The British Columbian provincial government has long maintained that rigorous environmental standards would have to be met before it issues any permits for mining.

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