U.S. Senate takes moves to protect Flathead watershed

Last month, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act was passed, which bans mining, oil and gas development in the Flathead watershed.

  • Jan. 5, 2015 6:00 p.m.

Sarah Kucharski/The Free Press

Last month, the U.S. Senate officially passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which will ban the development of mining, oil and gas in the entire transnational Flathead watershed.

The act has been in the works since 2010 when the B.C.-Montana Memorandum of Understanding was signed by former Govenor of Montana Brian Schweitzer and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, promising to put an official ban in place.

“We have this beautiful watershed that’s protected from those kinds of activities, however, there is still a loophole in both the Canadian and American legislation which allows those developments to happen in rock quarries. So that’s a piece that still needs to be cleaned up,” noted Wildsight’s Southern Rockies Program Manager Ryland Nelson. “The flathead is one of the most biologically important places in North America. It’s right in our backyard and it’s a place where these kinds of development are just not appropriate.”

He went on to say, “It’s been great working with both of our partners in Canada and in the U.S. to make them … commit to legislating an affirmative ban on mining, oil and gas developments.”

Nelson noted, however, that there is a loophole in the legislation that allows mining, oil and gas developments to continue in rock quarry areas of the Flathead, which he said Wildsight will continue to work towards adding to the banned legislation.

In addition to hosting a dense population of grizzly bears and a rich diversity of plant species, the Flathead is also home to the Waterton-Glacier National Peace Park.

Nelson notes that the B.C. portion of the Flathead is the “missing piece” of the Peace Park that is not officially protected park area, as the portions that cross through Alberta and Montana are.

“It’s time for B.C. to match that protection by adding the southeastern one-third of the Waterton-Glacier National Peace Park,” said Nelson.