Legislation to Protect North Fork Passes Key House Committee

By Beacon Staff

Legislation to protect the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park from energy development passed a key house committee Tuesday.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved its version of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act without opposition, according to Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., clearing the way for the bill to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. In June 2013, the bill passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and awaits a vote by the full Senate.

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 North Fork is widely treasured as a precious corner of our state, a place where we harvest timber, we hunt and fish, and lead trips into the adjacent Glacier National Park. The local community wants to continue using this watershed of the river to benefit their local economy — which is largely outdoor recreation based,” Daines stated at the hearing.

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 legislation 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.

“Rep. Daines absolutely recognizes the important role of Glacier National Park and the North Fork in our regional economy,” said Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “By introducing this legislation and working toward its passage, the Congressman has proved his commitment to championing local solutions to land-use issues. Now it’s up to Congress as a whole to protect this iconic place for those who live and visit here.”

The bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Baucu, D-Mont., and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. When passed, it will safeguard park- adjacent lands from future oil and gas leasing, forever protecting Glacier’s headwaters and downstream communities.

“This area is so special that our Senior Senator Max Baucus has been working since his first year in office to protect it,” Daines stated. “It is fitting that we are considering this bill today while the Senate holds his confirmation hearing to be a U.S. ambassador. I am proud to do everything I can to help this bill become law. This is the first time in 30 years the Montana delegation has supported lands legislation in a bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous way. I think Washington could take some pointers from how we work in Montana.”

The legislation costs taxpayers nothing, protects the engines driving the region’s economy, and honors all private property. It not only protects Glacier National Park, but also the municipal water supply for the city of Whitefish as well as commercial operations at destinations such as Whitefish Mountain Resort.

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