British Columbia gives U.S. an early Thanksgiving gift

Thanksgiving may still be a few days away, but here in Montana we’re already feeling in a thankful mood. 

That’s because last week, the British Columbian parliament passed a new law that permanently bans all forms of mining and oil and gas drilling on the Canadian side of the North Fork of the Flathead River watershed. 

The North Fork originates in the Canadian Rockies, flows south into Montana where it forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park, and then meets the Middle Fork of the Flathead River before emptying into Flathead Lake.  Home to bull trout, elk, moose, and the highest concentration of grizzly bears in interior North America, the North Fork is one of the most ecologically intact watersheds on the continent.

It’s also been one of the most threatened watersheds in the nation over the last three decades.  Mining and energy companies began eyeing the North Fork for industrial-scale coal mining, gold mining, and coalbed methane drilling in the 1970s.  The threat of development prompted American Rivers to include the North Fork in its annual most endangered rivers report in 2006.

The action by the BC legislature follows on the heels of an agreement that current Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and former British Columbian Premier Gordon Campbell signed on the eve of the Vancouver Olympics last February. 

The agreement committed the BC government to withdraw its portion of the North Fork watershed from mining and energy development in return for the U.S. government passing legislation doing the same on its side of the border.  The North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2011 (S. 233), sponsored by Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, is still pending in Congress.  As part of the pact, The Nature Conservancy agreed to raise $9.4 million in private funds to compensate mining companies that hold existing valid claims in the Canadian Flathead.

Now that the BC government has fulfilled its part of the deal and The Nature Conservancy has raised more than half of the buyout funds, it’s time for Congress to pass the North Fork Watershed Protection Act.

Please give your senators a nudge by calling them and asking them to support S. 233.  You can get their contact information on this Senate website.