The Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited has long been committed to protecting the Flathead River system, one of the last best strongholds for native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.
While the North Fork of the Flathead river corridor is protected by the Wild and Scenic river designation, the eastern tributaries and uplands are secured in Glacier National Park, and the Canadian headwaters are protected by a provincial ban on mining and drilling, the nearly 400,000 acres of the North Fork watershed within the Flathead National Forest remain open to mineral and energy development.
The recent introduction of legislation by Congressman Steve Daines to protect the North Fork of the Flathead from mineral entry and leasing is welcome news.
Mirroring legislation in the Senate that was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 2259) would ensure the protection of the 400,000 acres of national forest land in the North Fork watershed by withdrawing federal lands from mining and mineral leasing.
While existing leases would not be affected, already more than 200,000 acres of oil and gas leases have been voluntarily relinquished by several lease holders. Not only is this legislation widely supported in Montana, it also honors British Columbia’s commitment to do the same on their side of the border.
In a state with many special places, the North Fork is near the top of the list – that’s why Montanans have come together to protect it. We’ve done it before in places like the Rocky Mountain Front and with the Blackfoot Challenge, and we are working to do it again with efforts like the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
Hats off to Baucus, Tester and Daines for working together to protect valuable habitat and resources vital to our Montana fish and wildlife.
Hopefully, the North Fork is a harbinger for other bipartisan, collaborative conservation measures.
Larry Timchak is president of Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited
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