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Daines Announces Support for North Fork Watershed Protection

By Beacon Staff

WEST GLACIER — Citing the importance of responsible land-use policies and protecting Montana’s pristine outdoors, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines announced his plans to introduce legislation that would prevent industrial development in the North Fork Flathead River watershed on the western edge of Glacier National Park.

Daines, a Republican serving in his first term, stated his intentions to spearhead a bill in the House of Representatives similar to the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus reintroduced in February.

The Senate bill would reciprocate an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to ban new energy development like mining and oil drilling on roughly 80 percent of the leased acreage west of Glacier. The bill has hit roadblocks in Congress twice before.

Daines emerged Friday with his stated goal of overcoming partisan hurdles and partnering with his fellow Montana lawmakers to preserve a keystone piece of Montana’s outdoors heritage and the Flathead Valley’s economy.

“As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know the importance of our state’s rivers and mountains to Montanans’ outdoors heritage – because they’re part of my way of life too,” Daines told a crowd at the Belton Chalet in West Glacier.

“The North Fork watershed is of critical value to our state’s outdoors heritage and the tourism economy in the Flathead Valley, and it’s important that we work together to protect this valuable resource.”

Daines received an overwhelming show of appreciation from the crowded room of spectators, which included Glacier Park’s acting superintendent Kym Hall, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld, former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner and others.

“This is a watershed event,” said Dave Hadden, the director of Headwaters Montana, who has been involved in efforts to protect the North Fork since coal mines were originally proposed in 1975.

“I think Montanans are coming together. I get a sense that we’ve gone as far apart as we’re going to go and we’re coming back together to work for some solutions that work for everybody. This is a very good example of that. I really congratulate Congressman Daines for stepping up.”

Daines did not give a timeframe for when he plans to introduce the legislation, except to say he would get to work as soon as the Congressional session resumes in Washington D.C. April 9.

Baucus and Tester released statements applauding Daines’ efforts to move forward with his legislation.

“Working together to protect places like the North Fork is good policy and good business,” said Baucus, who has been closely involved with the issue over the past five decades and helped establish the Canadian agreement.

“It’s about setting aside places where we can pass on our Montana values to our kids and our grandkids,” Tester said. “I’m glad that Congressman Daines will be spearheading this in the House, and I look forward to working with him to protect areas like the North Fork that make Montana a special place to live and work.”

Daines has been traveling the state on a two-week tour and spent time in the Flathead Valley this past week visiting a number of businesses. He plans to continue on to Choteau where he will hold a listening session on April 3 with residents on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.

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