Daines Introduces Legislation Protecting North Fork Flathead

By Beacon Staff

U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Wednesday formally introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would block mining and energy development in the North Fork Flathead River drainage on the western boundary of Glacier National Park.

The bill, H.R. 2259, is nearly identical, both in name and content, to its companion bill in the Senate, the North Fork Watershed Protect Act, which Democratic U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced in February.

The public lands bills seek to furnish permanent protections on more than 400,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service parcels, placing them off limits to hard-rock mining, mountaintop-removal coal mining, and oil and gas development.

The sole difference in the bipartisan measures is that Daines’ bill makes clear that the Act does not restrict current recreational use, livestock management or forest management; the Senate bill also does not create new restrictions, but is not explicit on the matter.

“Efforts to protect the North Fork Watershed, like the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, are a good example of how we can work together to put Montana first,” Daines said in a press release. “I’m glad to be part of this important, bi-partisan effort and leading the charge in the House to achieve the goals that the Flathead community supports.”

Proponents of the legislation say it reciprocates a 2010 transboundary agreement between Canada and the U.S. to ban new energy development on the Canadian Flathead, and would fulfill U.S. obligations to protect both sides of the Flathead River drainage from energy and mineral development.

Daines, who serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the bill is supported by conservationists and industrialists alike, which augurs well for bipartisan action on the measure.

The product of a locally-driven effort by conservationists, Daines ‘s support of the North Fork protection measure has received praise from conservation groups who applaud the burgeoning bipartisan leadership in Montana.

“America’s Congress can learn from Montana’s leadership – here in the Big Sky country we know how to work together across borders to get important jobs done,” Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “It transcends both partisan lines and international borders, and with the support of Montana’s entire Congressional delegation we are confident it will be Glacier National Park’s next great success story.”

British Columbia passed similar legislation in 2011 through its “Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act.” That legislation was prompted by overwhelming public support in B.C. for a ban on mining and energy development in the transboundary Flathead watershed.

“Today Congressman Daines makes good on his recent promise to help resolve a long-standing issue of concern between Montana and British Columbia,” Dave Hadden, director of Headwaters Montana, a Flathead Valley-based conservation organization, said in a statement. “This legislation demonstrates the strong, bi-partisan support that exists for protecting the North Fork Flathead watershed from inappropriate development. It also signals to our British Columbia neighbors that Montanans are good for their word in balancing resource development and conservation across the international border.”

Baucus and Tester also applauded Daines’ efforts to move the legislation through the house.

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