Former Superintendents Call for Increased Protection of Glacier, Waterton Parks

By Beacon Staff

Eight former superintendents issued a letter last week calling for the expansion and increased protection of Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park. The appeal for conservation comes as Glacier’s centennial year draws to a close, and in the same week a public lands bill in the U.S. Senate containing protections for the Flathead watershed failed to advance to a vote.

A statement from Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester said they intend to reintroduce the measure, which would restrict new oil and gas development and mining along the North Fork valley, next year. Both the superintendents’ letter and Baucus and Tester point to the more than 200,000 acres of North Fork oil and gas leases voluntarily retired by energy companies over the last year as significant steps forward to prevent natural resource development along the western edge of Glacier Park.

Coupled with the mining ban in southeastern British Columbia protecting the northern reaches of the Flathead watershed, these achievements, “are historic and worthy of recognition,” the superintendents wrote.

“However, there remains unfinished work to ensure the legacy of Waterton-Glacier,” they add.

The letter goes on to call for a westward expansion of Waterton Lakes park into one-third of the British Columbian Flathead valley, and the establishment of a wildlife management corridor between the Crown of the Continent region and Banff National Park.

“This is what the people who know best on this landscape recommend for the next 100 years,” Michael Jamison, of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Glacier field office, said.

The superintendents also call for increased progress in negotiations between the federal governments of Canada and the U.S. to reach an agreement banning natural resource development in the area. Such an agreement would strengthen the deal Gov. Brian Schweitzer and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell signed in February.

“In joining our voice with our Canadian counterparts, we’re hoping public officials in both countries will view our communication as a call to action on behalf of this globally significant World Heritage site,” former Glacier Superintendent Mick Holm said in a statement.

But though the superintendents’ letter noted the federal legislation, called the North Fork Protection Act, would have also protected lands along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and Whitefish’s drinking water supply, just a day later the bill’s progress essentially died.

The legislation was contained in an omnibus public lands bill carried by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that contained more than 110 combined projects that included a measure, drafted by Baucus, fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In an unusually active lame duck session, Reid’s public lands omnibus package failed to advance. And though there was some effort to pass a pared down lands bill that didn’t contain any expensive items, on Wednesday evening Baucus and Tester released a statement that they would seek to advance the North Fork Protection Act in 2011.

“We are committed to continuing our work to protect the North Fork next year to ensure future generations can carry on the outdoor way of life we hold so dear in Montana,” Baucus said in a statement.

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