Sen. Baucus, Novelist Barr Honored By National Parks Conservation Association

A U.S. senator who in recent years has worked hard to protect Glacier National Park from mining impacts and a novelist who sets her stories in national parks have been honored by the National Parks Conservation Association.

During its annual Salute to the Parks: Protecting America's Heritage gathering earlier this week the park advocacy group presented Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, with its William Penn Mott Jr. Park Leadership Award, and honored Nevada Barr with the Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks.

“NPCA and park visitors nationwide owe them a great deal of gratitude for tirelessly advocating on behalf of our national parks," NPCA President Tom Kiernan said.

The 2011 Salute to the Parks awards dinner Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., commemorated the preservation and protection of America’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage in the national parks. The annual dinner draws hundreds of dignitaries, including members of Congress, the National Park Service, and national park supporters from across the country.

Sen. Baucus received his award, which goes to a public official who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the protection of America’s natural and cultural heritage, for his work protecting Glacier National Park and advocating for national parks across the country. The Democrat was instrumental in getting officials from British Columbia and Montana a year ago to sign an agreement to collaborate on protecting the environment of the Flathead River Basin from energy development.

For years environmental and conservation groups on both sides of the border have fought projects to mine coal, coal-bed methane, and gold in the scenic valley that some wildlife biologists have proclaimed the wildest valley in North America. That pressure convinced the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizaton's World Heritage Committee to dispatch a team of experts to the area in September 2009 to determine what impact mining might have on both Glacier and its Canadian neighbor, Waterton Lakes National Park. Their report concluded that mining would harm both parks.

Earlier this year Sen. Baucus and his in-state colleague, Sen. Jon Tester, reintroduced to Congress the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2011. The measure would ban mining and oil and gas development on federal lands in the North Fork Flathead drainage, which forms Glacier's western boundary.

The Robin W. Winks Award, meanwhile, is given by NPCA annually to an individual or organization that has effectively communicated the values of the National Park System to the American public. Ms. Barr, an award-winning novelist, was honored for her 16 mystery stories set in national parks. Those books have drawn public attention to the invaluable work of National Park Service staff who protect some of the most beautiful and remote places in the world, NPCA officials said.