Scientist Wins Conservation Award for Flathead River Basin Work

By Beacon Staff

Earlier this month University of Montana Research Scientist Erin Sexton was awarded the 2012 Conservation Achievement Award for her work in developing a long-term solution in protecting the Flathead Basin ecosystem.

The Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society presented the highly coveted award to Sexton at its Feb. 7 annual meeting.

Sexton served as the transboundary coordinator for the state of Montana and is a research scientist at UM’s Flathead Lake Biological Station. During the past 10 years, Sexton has been a leader in protecting the international Flathead River for generations to come.

The Flathead River, which originates in British Columbia, Canada, and flows into Montana, is considered one of America’s wildest rivers due to its pristine water quality and abundant, diverse aquatic and terrestrial life. Since the mid-1970s the headwaters of the Flathead have been threatened by British Columbia’s plans to strip mine for coal, and in 2007 British Petroleum announced plans for coal-bed methane development in the basin.

According to Richard Hauer, professor of limnology at FLBS and director of UM’s Institute on Ecosystems, Sexton’s swift response successfully prevented these plans from coming to fruition. The success was in large part due to her efforts to coordinate and develop a solid foundation of science to inform management and conservation professionals of the shared aquatic resources in the Flathead.

“Erin has shown exemplary vision in her commitment to developing a long-term solution on the Flathead,” said Hauer. “She has remained resolute in her commitment to link the scientific results with management and policy.”

On Feb. 18, 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia and then Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed an unprecedented accord to prohibit coal mining, coal-bed methane extraction, and gas and oil exploration and development in the Transboundary Flathead River Basin.

“Without Erin’s efforts, we believe this landmark conservation achievement would not have been realized,” said Clint Muhlfeld, research ecologist and faculty affiliate at FLBS and senior scientist with the United States Geological Society.
Sexton graduated from UM in 2002 with a master’s in environmental studies with a science emphasis.