The North Fork of the Flathead River (a.k.a. the Transboundary Flathead) continues to play in the news of late. The news media report that Gov. Brian
Schweitzer and Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester are at odds over how to best protect our river, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake from upstream industrial activity. While a bit confusing to the reader, we think it’s important to keep the North Fork in the news for one simple reason: Our fabulous North Fork ain’t protected yet.
Yes, the British Columbia government announced in February a ban on mining and energy development in the B.C. headwaters of the river. Yes, our governor and the B.C. premier signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) that commits to keeping the river free of industrial effluent. And yes, Baucus and Tester have introduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2010 (s.3075) and yes, Baucus has amended the Columbia River Basin Restoration Act of 2010 to include specific actions and protections for our North Fork. And yes, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper of Canada have spoken of the need for a bi-national agreement to protect the North Fork.
However, the difference between permanent protection of the North Fork and these actions is that all these actions have yet to be completed. Our river isn’t protected yet and we need to keep the pressure on until it is protected.
Governor Schweitzer accomplished the near impossible (based on 35 years of previous governors’ failing) by getting the B.C. premier to agree to a process to safeguard the North Fork. The governor had a lot of help from citizens on both sides of the border. But that’s just it: Protecting the North Fork must be a team effort. As any legal expert will tell you, the ghovernor’s MOU ain’t enough. It’s a piece of paper that speaks of specific details needing fulfillment on our side of the border, including, possibly, monetary claims.
Baucus and Tester understand the limitations of the MOU. So do many citizens on both sides of the border. The MOU is about equivalent to an executive order. The Premier’s cabinet can reverse itself at any given moment. That is why Baucus has been working hard for a bi-national agreement with the Canadian federal government. That is why Tester has spoken correctly of the need for additional “layers of protection” for the watershed.
The North Fork of the Flathead isn’t safe yet. Baucus and Tester’s initiative to establish a government agreement at the federal level is the best option for ensuring the B.C./Montana MOU enjoys a long and ecologically healthy life.
You, dear reader, can help ensure we achieve permanent protection for the North Fork. Please log onto Baucus and Tester’s websites and submit a short note supporting their efforts for an international agreement. Thank you.
executive director, Headwaters Montana
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