With hopes of building more support to protect the fragile landscapes surrounding Glacier National Park from mining, a coalition of non-profit groups has launched a website to promote legislation to safeguard the region.
The Protect Glacier site details the threats to Glacier, the efforts of Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana to push through the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, and asks readers to learn more about the issues and sign an online petition to support the legislation.
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 runs south and marks the western border of Glacier. That rugged area is home to grizzly bears, wolves, elk, lynx, mountain goat, wolverine and pristine fisheries of bull trout and Westslope cutthroat trout.
There once were greater threats to the region than exist today. For many years there were efforts to develop coal and gold mines in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage, an area described by some wildlife biologists as the wildest place in North America because all the original prey and predators were still there.
However, in February 2010 officials from British Columbia and Montana finalized an agreement to collaborate on protecting the environment of the Flathead River Basin from energy development.
About the same time, Sens. Baucus and Tester announced their plans to seek similar protections on the U.S. side of the border. Their legislation, the North Fork Watershed Preservation Act, would ban mining and oil and gas development on federal lands in the North Fork Flathead drainage.
But even as major energy companies (including Chevron, BP, Exxon and ConocoPhillips) volunteer to retire their mining and drilling leases on Glacier’s western fringe, lawmakers struggle to pass protective measures prohibiting future mining of public lands in the North Fork Flathead River drainage, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, a driver behind the Protect Glacier website.
The website gives more than an overview of the issue. On it you'll find a virtual world where you can explore maps and photographs from the Flathead, learn about what’s at stake, and flip through years of reports and research.
“Passage of Senate Bill 233 is an essential component of completing the international agreement with Canada," said Will Hammerquist of the NPCA. “Our coalition is optimistic on its passage. S. 233 has the support of people who love Glacier and the local business community who understand that protecting an irreplaceable asset like Glacier is commonsense. It also helps that S. 233 is only 190 words in length and doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime.”
Other groups supporting the site include American Rivers, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Clark Fork Coalition, Flathead Trout Unlimited, Glacier Association, Glacier National Park Fund, Headwaters Montana, Montana Wildlife Association, North Fork Preservation Association, Sierra Club-British Columbia, The Wilderness Society, Northern Rockies Office, Wildsight-British Columbia, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative.