LETTER: A Welcome Rejection of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act

By Beacon Staff

A version of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act (NFPA) recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and has been stymied by some U.S. senators refusing to vote for it. This oversight is welcome. One of the senators is the author of the apt and timely book, “The Debt Bomb” (Coburn, 2012). The senators “… have stipulated that the only way they’ll support additional land protections is if an equal amount of land is removed from federal protections” (March 19 Beacon).

The North Fork has mineral potential; coal occurrences and deposits are known. Serious past oil and gas exploration has taken place. Sketchy reports of placer gold occurrences in the Quartz Creek drainage of Glacier National Park and in the Coal Creek drainage outside of the park suggest that lode bedrock deposits may exist. The Middle Fork, also included in this act, has some metallic mineral potential based on past prospecting activity.

The idea that the presence of a national park should “sterilize” adjoining land from mineral development land uses is impractical and ill advised. If this becomes vogue, then an unintended consequence will be resistance in the future to any sizeable new national park or wilderness area because of a de facto boundary expansion that they may later engender. As for practicality, how far does the sterilization extend from a park boundary? A long way, as we see in the NFPA.

If sterilization is acceptable, then an opposite counterpart ought to be valid. Say a person hiking within a national park a few miles from a park boundary happens to notice a visible gold showing. They ought to be able to locate a mineral claim and develop it on the grounds that federal transboundary lands on which such action is perfectly legal are nearby. This is the same “justification by proximity” that the proposed act is based on.

Edwin Speelman

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