Infinite Outdoors
Flathead agreement from this side of Divide

Feb. 27, 2010

If you’re into the environmental/conservation mode, simply savouring the B.C.-Montana agreement last week banning mining and oil and gas production in the North Flathead Valley might be a little tempting. It seems, after all, that someone in authority is listening and responsive and that good things can happen in the develop-or-conserve battle.

It is, however, only a memorandum of understanding, scheduled to take effect in July.

The Flathead, of course, is the other side of the Continental Divide from Waterton Lakes National Park and the Castle Special Place. Long-time area outdoors enthusiasts will recall when you could move between the Flathead and West Castle by four-wheel drive “or even an old Edsel” through the Middle Kootenay Pass. And mountain bikers and hikers connect Waterton with the Flathead through the Akamina Pass.

Groups such as Wildsight, the Sierra Club B.C. and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society see the ban as one step in their quest to have the southeastern one-third of the Flathead River Valley designated a national park, as an extension of Waterton park.

A couple of initiatives preceded the agreement.

In January, a United Nations report recommended a moratorium on mining in the Flathead and development of a “comprehensive trans-boundary conservation and wildlife management plan,” partly because mining could negatively affect neighboring Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Larry Ostola, director-general of Canada’s National Historic and World Heritage Sites who helped facilitate the U.N. mission to Waterton last fall, says the B.C-Montana agreement is a good thing and “will contribute to the protection of the park.”

And, he says, “If B.C. came to us with a proposal for a park extension, we’d certainly help with it.”

Also last fall, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada agreed to “collaborate on continent-wide conservation measures to protect ecosystems, migratory wildlife, and natural resources that do not start and end with geographical boundaries.”

That came from a Wild Foundation World Wilderness Conference at which 1,500 delegates urged Canada and B.C. to “co-operate in the completion of Waterton-Glacier by designation of a National Park Reserve” in the Flathead and preserve the area “permanently from all mining and drilling activity.”

Members of a group seeking legislated protection of the Castle Special Place took heart from an announcement by federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice that Canada was onside to conserve more Canadian wilderness.

A spokesman for Wildsight, one of the groups that pushed for the moratorium, commented that it was unfortunate Alberta was not part of the agreement. But Dave Ealey, spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, says the province has been in “active collaboration” since 2007 with Montana and B.C. on Crown of the Continent issues that relate to wildlife movement and management.

For example, he says Alberta’s recovery plan for grizzlies includes improved communication with adjacent jurisdictions on their movement.

“We think there’s a lot of things we’re already doing with B.C. and Montana designed to secure habitat for fish and wildlife.

“Our approach is compatible with and would benefit the intent of what they’re doing,” says Ealey.

So, we’ll have to watch closely for signs the collaboration brings further habitat and wildlife attention.




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