Protecting Flathead Headwaters

North Fork Victory:  B.C. and Montana ban mining

During the past three decades, the Flathead Lakers, along with countless citizens, public officials, scientists and organizations, have staunchly defended Flathead waters from the threat of upstream coal development proposals in the British Columbia headwaters of the Flathead River. All of that work paid off when B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Governor Brian Schweitzer signed a landmark agreement banning mining in the North Fork Flathead Watershed in February, 2010.

This is a tremendous achievement for the future of Flathead Lake and the North Fork. The Flathead Lakers are grateful to Premier Campbell and Governor Schweitzer and everyone who worked so long and hard for this result. We are delighted that Montana and B.C. are entering a new era of transboundary cooperation to sustain the qualities that make the Flathead a special place.

The agreement affirms the UNESCO science team's recommendation for a moratorium on mining in the North Fork Watershed to protect the remarkable natural amenities of the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, a World Heritage Site. It fulfills the 1988 International Joint Commission recommendation against coal mining in the North Fork. And it corroborates what those of us who live, work and play in the Flathead have long known, that the headwaters of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake are no place for mining.

Steps Toward Implementing the Agreement

Actions to implement the historic agreement began immediately.

Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced Senate Bill 3075, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2010, which withdraws future mining, oil and gas drilling and geothermal development on U.S. Forest Service land in Montana's North Fork Flathead River Watershed. The Flathead Lakers support the bill and have encouraged others to voice support for it.

Conoco-Phillips and Chevron, two of the largest holders of existing oil and gas leases in the U.S. North Fork, as well as three additional companies, have voluntarily given up their leases at the request of Baucus and Tester. Discussions with other lease holders are also underway.

The Montana State Land Board approved a resolution to implement management restrictions on state lands in the North Fork Flathead Watershed that are compatible with the B.C.–Montana agreement, including limiting the size of any future quarries or gravel operations.

The B.C. government initially announced its decision to ban mining in the annual "Throne Speech" and followed up with an Order of Council, a decree by the Premier's cabinet.

What's Next?

Additional efforts are underway to put teeth into the agreement to ensure that its goals are achieved and to secure long term protection for the waters and wildlife of the transboundary North Fork Flathead. Supporters in B.C. are encouraging the B.C. government to pass a law banning mining and oil and gas development. They are also continuing to campaign for expanding Waterton National Park and establishing a Wildlife Management Area outside the park boundaries. A recent poll showed that over 60% of East Kootenay residents support expansion of the park.

In addition, Senators Baucus and Tester are working with the U.S. State Department to negotiate a bi-national agreement with Canadian federal officials.

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