At Long Last

Permanent protections for Glacier's headwaters

By Amy Leinbach Marquis

This February, as Vancouver bustled with Olympic athletes chasing the gold, another remarkable victory was shaping up in the quiet, remote Flathead River Valley to the east. It began when British Columbia’s government announced a permanent ban on mining and drilling in Canada’s Flathead River Valley; one week later, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) promised the same level of protection south of the border.

It’s a big win for Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, designated a World Heritage Site in 1995, and it brings an end to an era of environmentally catastrophic proposals for projects like strip mining and coal-bed methane drilling. To make sure similar threats don’t creep back in, U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) are introducing legislation in Congress that would end all leasing for oil and gas mining in the Flathead’s North Fork outside Glacier National Park, and begin the process of retiring old leases that are currently suspended and undeveloped. The decision allows the countries to focus on protecting the area’s wildlife corridors. Canadian officials will also discuss the possibility of incorporating the lower third of the Flathead River into the Canadian side of the peace park—a move favored by many British Columbia residents.

Conservation efforts in the Flathead date back more than 35 years, when NPCA joined with First Nations, business groups, and community leaders on both sides of the border to block a series of proposed open-pit, mountain-removal coal mines in the Flathead Valley (see “Moving Mountains,” Summer 2008).

The recent pledge is a great start to Glacier’s second century; the park was created 100 years ago this spring. “We can’t think of a better birthday present for Glacier National Park,” says Will Hammerquist, NPCA’s Glacier program manager.

Amy Leinbach Marquis is National Parks' associate editor. 

This article appears in the Spring 2010 issue.

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