A gold strike in the rugged mountains of British Columbia just across the U.S.-Canadian border from Glacier National Park is yet one more concern for the park's environmental health, which already is being threatened by another mining project eyed in the same general area.
Less than three months ago a field team was dispatched from UNESCO's World Heritage Committee and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to Glacier and neighboring Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta to gauge whether an open-pit coal mine in the Flathead River headwaters north of Glacier and west of Waterton Lakes would pose a threat to the parks.
Tucked into British Columbia's southeastern corner, 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."
While the coal mine being considered by the Cline Mining Corp. is roughly 20-25 miles north of Glacier, the gold ore that Max Resource Corp. drilled into during exploration work is roughly 10 miles from the park's northwest corner, according to Will Hammerquist, who runs the Glacier field office for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Word Thursday from Max Resource, a Canadian company, was that the assays indicated the strike at the Crowsnest site was particularly rich in some areas, with one bore hole producing 19.03 grams per ton of gold in a section roughly 18 feet long, and 50.26 grams per ton measured in section a roughly 5 feet long. Next year the company, which holds 15 claims on roughly 7,764 acres in the area, plans to conduct "an extensive exploration program ... to extend the area of high grade mineralization at Crowsnest and test new targets identified during surface exploration and review of historic data."
While full-site development has not been broached, Mr. Hammerquist at NPCA said the exploratory work already is impacting the area, whose tributaries feed the Flathead River that flows south along the western boundary of Glacier.
“I’ve been up to this site, and I’ve seen it. You're already having some impacts on the watershed. There are roads being built on steep grades," he said Thursday night. "We’re already seeing impacts on the watershed from these localized impacts. So at this point it’s cause for concern.”
While some might say a mine 10 miles beyond a national park's borders shouldn't necessarily be cause for concern, Mr. Hammerquist stressed that the setting for both the Cline and the Max Resource projects is unique in the world for its biological richness and pristine condition. The diversity of vascular plants in the Flathead Valley is the richest in Canada, he said, and the full prey-predator assemblage is intact.
"That sort of industrial mining activity just isn't an appropriate land use for that valley," he said.