Here in Montana, August brings us the county fair and farm harvests. And this year we also celebrate a harvest of victories for Glacier National Park, the North Fork Flathead River and Flathead Lake. In addition to commemorating Glacier’s first 100 years, citizens from across the Montana-British Columbia border, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester did yeoman’s work to protect this special place.
The victories began this past winter during the Vancouver Olympics when B.C. Campbell announced that he would place the Canadian Flathead Valley off-limits to mining and energy development.
Schweitzer’s quiet, behind-the-scenes work built a relationship with the premier that resulted in a historic agreement that included the ban on mining in the North Fork watershed. After signing the agreement, he said, “I can say of all of the things I’ve managed to accomplish, there’s none I’m more proud of.”
Montana’s senators have also been working diligently to protect our side of the North Fork. Baucus has championed protection for Glacier and the Flathead’s clean waters since he was first elected to Congress, and he has been joined in recent years in an effective and vigorous partnership with Tester. Together they have worked continuously to build support for legislation to protect Glacier National Park during this centennial year and implement terms of the transboundary agreement. Of special note, they reached out to energy companies holding leases in the North Fork. As a result, they achieved an unprecedented retirement of over 250,000 acres of leases at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Our senators’ hard work continues to pay off. Their legislation to protect the North Fork of the Flathead from energy extraction and hard rock mining (S. 3075) has advanced to the floor of the U.S. Senate. This legislation stands a good chance of becoming law before the end of the year.
And, just last month, the United Nations report on the visit last year by a science team to evaluate the potential impacts of mining on the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park was released. It declares how important the transboundary Flathead area is and that coal mining would degrade the Peace Park, a World Heritage Site. The report affirms the importance of the Schweitzer-Campbell agreement and the passage of S. 3075.
These successes have happened because citizens like you want to protect clean water, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake. Local businesses, communities, elected officials and outdoorsmen and women understand that protecting clean water and Glacier make good environmental and economic sense.
However, our job as a community to protect these treasures remains unfinished. It is critical that a U.S.-Canadian agreement to protect the greater transboundary Flathead region be completed at the federal level.
Our actions today will ensure that future generations have the same opportunity to experience the natural wonders of Glacier National Park, the Flathead River, and Flathead Lake. By working together, we will protect the legacy of the park, our famous waters and wildlife, and special way of life.
Dave Hadden is director of Headwaters Montana; Robin Steinkraus is executive director of the Flathead Lakers; Will Hammerquist is program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association’s Glacier Field Office. Together these three organizations represent thousands of Flathead Valley residents and visitors.
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