Press Release Dec 12, 2014

Congress Approves North Fork Watershed Protection Act and Most Significant National Park System Expansion in Nearly Three Decades

Senate passes North Fork Watershed Protection Act safeguarding the North Fork Flathead River Valley (headwaters to Glacier Park and Flathead Lake).

Whitefish, MT – With today’s Senate passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress has approved the most significant expansion of the National Park System in nearly three decades. Among the bills that will expand our National Park System and provide greater protections outside of park boundaries, the Senate passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, to safeguard the North Fork Flathead River Valley (headwaters to Glacier Park and Flathead Lake).

“This bipartisan legislation represents years of work by community members, business leaders, scientists and the National Parks Conservation Association. It also represents years of history that deserve to be preserved, and acres of land that deserve to be protected in the name of strengthening our country’s best idea. This legislation clearly demonstrates that Congress and the Administration are making national parks a national priority,” said Clark Bunting, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association.

In Montana, NPCA and conservationists joined timber and business interests – alongside our Canadian neighbors– to thank Montana’s Congressional leaders for their bipartisan work toward the popular bill’s passage, a powerful bipartisan statement indicating that Montana’s leadership supports locally-driven and homegrown efforts.

“A century ago, Montanans showed extraordinary vision in successfully urging Congress to establish Glacier National Park; their foresight has been our great inheritance. Glacier has formed the center of our landscape and our economy, drawing the visitors and entrepreneurs who keep our economies vibrant with their investment in the park’s gateway communities,” said Michael Jamison, NPCA’s Glacier Program Manager. “There are places in this world deserving of careful stewardship. Glacier National Park and the transboundary North Fork are among those irreplaceable treasures.”

The North Fork Watershed Protection Act has roots that reach back nearly 40 years, when the first Canadian coal mining proposals sought to tear down peaks in Glacier National Park’s headwaters. In 2010, Montana reached an historic accord with British Columbia’s leadership, pledging to together protect the wild and scenic region. The following year, Canadian lawmakers upheld their portion of the agreement by safeguarding lands north of the border. Former Montana Senator Max Baucus introduced similar legislation for the U.S. Congress, but was named ambassador to China before it was implemented. His bill, since adopted by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont), Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont), and Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont) will limit future leasing on federal North Fork lands.

The bill, which protects private property rights and comes at no cost to taxpayers, has the support of hunters and anglers, of cities and counties, Montana timber industry, Chambers of Commerce, the region’s largest employers, even the giants of America’s energy sector such as Conoco Phillips and Chevron.

“Preservation and access are cornerstones of the North Fork Protection Act,” Senator Tester said. “Protecting the North Fork is not just good for wildlife or for the hiker who enjoys it. It’s also good for our economy and nearby communities. Knowing the North Fork will be there for future generations strengthens our way of life, and I am proud to see Congress approve this Made-in-Montana bipartisan achievement.”

“Montana’s congressional delegation was able to put aside political differences by following the example set by of our fellow citizens,” Senator Walsh said. “Passage of the North Fork withdrawal caps 40 years of Montanans working together to protect our outdoor heritage and strengthen the economy of the Flathead.“

“Today’s passage of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act is welcome news for the people of Montana,” said Representative Daines , who successfully ushered the measure through the U.S. House earlier this year. “This is a common sense, locally-driven effort that Montanans have worked toward together for decades, and I’m proud be a part of the bipartisan, collaborative effort to get this done for our state.”

While the national parks package is tremendous in terms of expanding our National Park System, NPCA is mindful that it is not perfect.

“While this legislation includes two dozen bills that protect iconic places both in our history and in our landscapes, we also recognize that it includes provisions that could harm our natural resources. And it is those provisions that are of concern to us, both as park advocates and as conservationists. However, the gains we make for our parks, their communities and their visitors will have lasting benefits for our nation,” said Theresa Pierno, Chief Operating Officer, National Parks Conservation Association.

“In Montana, nearly 660,000 acres of our finest public-land heritage has received increased conservation, while protections were reduced on just 14,000 acres,” said Jamison. “This is absolutely a victory for Glacier’s wild heritage.”

For more than 80 years, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park has occupied a uniquely Montanan place at the confluence of conservation, culture and commerce. It reflects the best of who we are, and it represents how we make our living – year after year, visitation to Glacier National Park pumps more than $180 million annually into local communities, making the Park a primary economic driver as well as the world’s best backyard. This intersection of landscape, lifestyle and livelihood is the common-ground place where Montanans from all walks of life meet to work together.

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About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.