How environmentally sensitive is the Canadian government? Can the presidents of two of the United States' conservation groups convince the government not to allow energy development in the headwaters of the Flathead Valley that lies upstream of Glacier National Park and across from Waterton Lakes National Park?
The area where the energy resources are thought to lie is at the headwaters of the Flathead River, which runs south into Montana. Tucked into British Columbia's southeastern corner, just a bit north of Glacier Park and due west of Waterton Lakes, the Canadian Flathead Valley is a 40-mile swath of sawtooth-tipped mountains and alluvial plains that cradle the headwaters of the Flathead River. That ruggedness, with its resident grizzly bears, wolves, elk, lynx, mountain goat, wolverine and pristine fisheries of bull trout and Westslope cutthroat trout, has prompted one biologist to tag the area as "the single most important basin for carnivores in the Rocky Mountains."
Earlier this year a plan to develop coalbed methane reserves in the region was dropped. However, there remain plans to develop coal reserves in the region. The proposal by Cline Mining Corp. to sink an open-pit coal mine into the area could have devastating impacts on the Canadian Flathead Valley and those areas downstream in the United States, according to those who have looked into the matter.
"The environmental impacts associated with this massive industrial incursion into the Canadian Flathead would be significant by any measure," Joseph L. Sax and Robert B. Keiter wrote in analyzing the threats that confront Glacier in an article that recently appeared in the University of California's Ecology Law Quarterly. Mining projects of this magnitude will require an expansive infrastructure of new roads and pipelines that will have to be constructed on unstable mountainous terrain.
On Thursday, the presidents of the National Parks Conservation Association and The Wilderness Society met with the Honorable Michael H. Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the United States, regarding the future of the Flathead Valley in British Columbia.
"We would like to express our gratitude to Ambassador Wilson for taking the time to meet with us and hear our concerns on this issue of national importance," said TWS President William Meadows. "Our organizations have a long history of open communication with the Canadian Embassy on transboundary environmental issues."
The transboundary Crown of the Continent region, including the Flathead Valley, is one of the most intact, diverse and connected ecosystems in the temperate zones of the world. Characterized by remoteness and farsighted conservation practices, the core of the Crown of the Continent consists of transboundary land encompassing Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and Bob Marshall, Great Bear, and Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness areas.
Multiple proposals for mountain-top removal coal mines and coalbed methane extraction in the Flathead Valley have been forwarded in recent years. These include Cline Mining’s Lodgepole Mine, which the U.S. State Department has opposed due to "significant adverse impacts to Glacier National Park." As proposed the Lodgepole Mine would produce 16 million tons of waste rock annually over the mine’s 20-year period of operation, and result in the permanent diversion of a key tributary of the Flathead River, according to NPCA.
The Canadian Federal Environmental Assessment Office announced in December 2007 that the Lodgepole Mine would be subject to a federal Comprehensive Study under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
"It is our hope that Canada will choose to create a better peace park and implement a land-use plan that protects the world-class ecological values of the Flathead Valley," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "Now is the time for Canada and the U.S. to show true leadership and together, craft a long-term solution for the Flathead Valley that protects the legacy of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park for our children and grandchildren."