Former Glacier, Waterton Lakes Superintendents Call For Better Protection of Both Parks

Former superintendents for Glacier and Waterton Lakes national parks are calling on their countries to bolster protections around the two parks. NPT photo of Logan Pass, Glacier National Park.

Though Glacier National Park's centennial year, and its resulting PR, are coming to a close, a group of former park superintendents is hoping to keep both Glacier and neighboring Waterton Lakes National Park in the forefront of conservation efforts.

A letter signed by six former Glacier superintendents and two former Waterton Lakes superintendents calls for expansion of Waterton Lakes and a formal agreement between the United States and Canada to better protect the Waterton-Glacier region's environment.

"Throughout this past century, Canada and the United States have taken significant steps to protect and preserve this international treasure, including bilateral support for designating the Peace Park a World Heritage site in 1995," reads the letter. "Early in this centennial birthday year, both countries furthered a decades-old international effort to safeguard Waterton-Glacierʼs pristine headwaters, by protecting British Columbiaʼs remote Flathead River Valley and Montanaʼs North Fork Flathead River drainage from proposed coal strip-mining, coalbed methane extraction, and gold mines.

"The steps taken to date -- which include retiring more than 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares) of oil and gas leases in the Montana North Fork, and a mining ban in the B.C. portion of the watershed -- are historic and worthy of recognition. However, there remains unfinished work to ensure the legacy of Waterton-Glacier."

In the United States, part of that work includes adopting legislation to finalize a mining and drilling ban in watersheds just west of Glacier.

The letter was signed by former Glacier superintendents Mick Holm (2002-2008), Dave A. Mihalic (1994-1999), Gil Lusk (1986-1994), Bob Haraden (1980-1986), Phil Iverson (1974-80) and Bill J. Briggle (1969-1974) along with former Waterton Lakes superintendents Merv Syroteuk (1992-1996) and Peter Lamb (1999-2004).

The letter comes as Congress considers a massive public-lands omnibus bill (America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010) that includes several key park-protection measures. The legislation encompasses more than 110 individual bills.

In their letter, the former superintendents endorse a long-standing proposal for Canada to expand Waterton Lakes National Park westward into one-third of the British Columbian Flathead. They also call for Canada to establish a wildlife management area connecting Waterton-Glacier to other Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, including Banff.

Last summer a group of international scientists representing the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization said that while strides have been made in both British Columbia and Montana to protect the two parks, much remains to be done, particularly when it comes to the region's wildlife.

Steps should also be taken to minimise the barrier to wildlife connectivity due to mining, transportation and communication lines and associated developments in the Crowsnest Pass of B.C., and where such barriers exist, appropriate mitigation measures should be planned and implemented. In particular, there should be a long-term moratorium placed on any further mining developments in south eastern British Columbia, immediately west of the Alberta border, in the corridor of natural terrain that creates vital habitat connectivity and allows the unimpeded movement of carnivores and ungulates between the Waterton-Glacier property and Banff/Jasper NPs of the Rocky Mountains WH property in Alberta. Other measures should include minimising future infrastructure development and removal of unnecessary structures, maintenance of core natural areas and rehabilitation of degraded areas, and development of a pro-active plan for enhancing connectivity in the area.

At the National Parks Conservation Association, officials applauded the superintendents' letter.

“To have nearly every retired superintendent from Waterton and Glacier calling for these measures is beyond significant,” said Tim Stevens, NPCA's Northern Rockies regional director. “These individuals spent their entire careers managing protected areas. They understand better than anyone what steps are needed to ensure the ecological integrity and clean headwaters of Waterton-Glacier.”

Comments

The comments of these former Park Superintendants were bitterly amusing to me as a transplanted Canadian who has not only hunted, fished, and backpacked in this area for the last 45 years, but also worked as a National Park employee. I've watched as superintendents like these and the bureaucracy they have overseen has allowed commercial interests in our existing national parks to expand to the point where they no longer resemble what they were up until the late 70's.

We are told by NPCA that we should listen to what these retired superintendents say because they spent their entire careers managing protected areas and therefore know what is best for this particular area - even though most have never spent any time there. Let's ignore for the moment that anyone who has worked in the parks service knows that management positions are more often than not gained not through merit, but being the best of the herd at climbing the bureaucratic ladder. More to the point, given the spread of commercial recreation and the impact of commercialism on parks such as Banff and Yellowstone while being managed by wise superintendents such as these, it becomes obvious that they actually don't "know what is best" after all. The policies may possibly have been political creations, but I don't recall any superintendents resigning in protest to fight the decay of national parks on either side of the border. Pity that they couldn't have showed a bit of spine and stood up for something then, instead of waiting until they had a pension securely in hand before demanding change.

Furthermore, it is no accident that this area has the highest density of grizzly bears in North America, considerably greater than the neighboring national parks in both countries. Dr. Valerius Geist, PhD, a well known and published biologist and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, University of Calgary, has covered this in detail in his paper on habituation - referring to parks as death zones for bears. If the opinion of parks employees means anything, Parks Canada agrees with Dr. Geist's work on habituation. In Canada, the highest mortality rate for grizzly bears is in the National Parks - and the last thing BC locals want to see is the same thing happen to these bears if the area is ever turned into a national park.

This area that local BC residents refer to as the "South Country" has been a favoured recreation destination for many of them for generations. That ongoing link with this area is why so many local BC residents have and continue to be passionate about protecting this area - long before it became the cause de jour. Not just from environmental damage, but from "Parkies" who are never there to do the sweat jobs, are mostly from other provinces and cities, and are working so diligently to put an end to their continued use of the area for hunting and other forms of politically incorrect recreation. The most recent evidence of that is the local groups and residents that took part in the SRMMP and CWRMS. I participated in both of those, including a group that reviewed commercial recreation tenure applications for these areas. Those crying the loudest for this area to be a national park - not to mention showing up for enhancement projects that involve sweat and blisters - were most conspicious by their absence. Which, come to think of it, is normally the case in situations like these. The locals do all the grinding work, while those from elsewhere spill a lot of ink telling locals what they really ought to be doing.

I have no doubt that the parkies (and the hangers-on who will climb aboard any cause that includes restrictions on hunting, trapping, motorized recreation, etc) will continue their efforts to have this area of the South Country turned into a park. Those signing on for this, hopefully, will not be surprised when local BC residents opposed to this push back, and push back hard. Montanans would not take well to British Columbians coming down here to tell local residents that the Flathead National Forest should be added on to Glacier National Park, with the accompanying ban on hunting, logging, motorized recreation, etc, so don't expect anything less from British Columbia when US interests head north to tell the locals what areas they should put in parks.

Management by local wildlife and resource managers beats management from Ottawa and Washington.