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.”