New Study Warns of Threats to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Date:   November 14, 2002
Contact:   Mark Peterson, State of the Parks Director, 970-493-2545
Steve Thompson, NPCA Glacier Program Manager, 406-862-6722
Stephen Hazell, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, 613-569-7226
Roger Di Silvestro, NPCA Communications Director, 202-454-333

New Study Warns of Threats to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Fort Collins, CO - Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, more than a million acres of mountain and forest wilderness straddling the Continental Divide on the Montana-Alberta border, is threatened by global pollution, inadequate funding for basic park operations, and haphazard development on surrounding private lands, according to a new study released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
"Waterton-Glacier remains largely unchanged since it was designated the world's first peace park by the U.S. and Canadian governments in 1932," said Mark Peterson, director of the NPCA State of the Parks program, which conducted the study. "It is the heart of one of the continent's most pristine wild areas and includes naturally occurring populations of all native large predators. But our study found that park wildlife and the wild lands on which these species depend are jeopardized by threats that could seriously degrade the park."
The peace park is composed of America's Glacier National Park and Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. Such multi-national parks are created to facilitate cooperation among nations in protecting wildlife and wild places that span international boundaries.
The NPCA study, the first to examine systematically the conditions and resource trends for both sides of the peace park, uncovered threats to natural resources that include:

  • cumulative impacts from proposed highway expansion, clear-cut logging, and commercial, recreational, and residential development of working ranch and forest lands;

  • invasions by nonnative plants and animals;

  • potential oil and gas drilling and open-pit coal mining on nearby lands;

  • declining air quality and global warming; and

  • a growing number of low-level sightseeing air tours.

The most critical issue facing the peace park is lack of sufficient funding and of personnel to reduce park threats. Glacier, which comprises 1 million of the peace park's 1.1 million acres, lacks adequate operating funds for needed projects and is burdened by $400 million in delayed maintenance needs. For example, annual funding for the scenic but crumbling Going-to-the-Sun Road, a national historic landmark and the main roadway through park mountains, is less than a third of what is needed, and further delays in rehabilitating historic Many Glacier Hotel could damage the building irreparably.
Particularly severe threats include plans for an open-pit coalmine in the unsettled Canadian Flathead River region and highway expansions and other land development that will bring more traffic into areas traversed by wildlife such as wolves and threatened grizzly bears. Nonnative fish that migrated into the park from Flathead Lake are crowding out dwindling native bull trout, and nonnative plants have been introduced by unauthorized livestock grazing along park borders. Under current warming trends, the park's namesake glaciers will vanish by 2030. The report's 10-year forecast for native biodiversity and freshwater systems is "likely to deteriorate."
Park cultural resources also are in very poor condition, the study indicates. Both Waterton Lakes and Glacier suffer similar problems in protecting archaeological and historic sites, including inadequate collection and storage facilities. The peace park contains the most complete and diverse cultural record from pre-European contact in the Rocky Mountain Range, yet Glacier's most recent study of its historical resources is more then 20 years old and in critical need of revision.
Eighty-eight percent of Glacier's potentially significant cultural landscapes have not been evaluated and are not fully protected. The condition of 43 percent of park sites remains unknown, and the sites could be eroding away. Only 16 of the 429 known sites are in good condition. The park needs a staff archaeologist to protect these jeopardized resources.
Among the report's recommendations for strengthening park protection:

  • Canada should implement a proposal by park advocates and a Canadian timber company to double the size of Waterton, aligning its western border with Glacier's.

  • Citizens in Glacier's gateway communities should work together to ensure federal funding for the enormous deferred backlog of projects at the park.

  • Rehabilitation for Going-to-the-Sun Road should be based upon a transportation plan designed to reduce traffic congestion, provide an affordable public transportation system, and expand bicycle opportunities.

  • Peace park staff should work with local, state, provincial, federal, and tribal agencies to initiate stronger protections for native wildlife species.

  • The U.S. National Park Service should provide additional enforcement personnel to stop unauthorized livestock grazing on Glacier's eastern boundary.

  • The U.S. Congress should fund a comprehensive evaluation of all potential historical and archaeological sites and increase funding to expand collection, storage, and exhibition of historical and cultural artifacts.

Copies of the report can be obtained from the contacts listed above, read online, and downloaded as a PDF.


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