No Conservation Zone?

Flathead River | © Darcy Nonemacher

Many of us have strong connections to rivers that are protected through Wild and Scenic designation.

I was lucky to grow up in the Flathead Valley in northwestern Montana, and the forks of the Flathead River hold special memories for me. In fact, last summer I took my family – including my then 10-month old son and three adorable nieces – on a scenic float down the Middle Fork Flathead. We saw the jagged peaks of Glacier National Park, many different types of birds, and even a black bear enjoying a cool drink on the rocky shore. It’s no wonder that a dam proposal on the Middle Fork back in the 1950s inspired two brothers, John and Frank Craighead, to advance a federal law to protect our nation’s last, best wild rivers.

To river lovers like us, Wild and Scenic places are special, unique, and valuable for many reasons. Some members of Congress also value wild rivers, such as Montana Senator Max Baucus who is a longtime champion for protecting the Flathead River and spearheaded a recent effort to prevent oil and gas development from harming this beautiful watershed. Unfortunately, other members of Congress do not share or recognize these values.

Late in June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that waives protections like Wild and Scenic designation and gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to control public lands and protected rivers within 100 miles from our borders with Canada and Mexico. The bill also waives fundamental environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act within the 100-mile corridor. If passed, this law would gut more than a century of conservation and public lands protection.

Interestingly, the Department of Homeland Security didn’t support the bill. What? Give an agency authority it doesn’t want nor understand how to use? That seems like a very bad idea.

Needless to say, when I learned about the bill, I was confused, dismayed, and very concerned about what the law could mean for rivers like the Flathead. Turns out, I’m not the only one.

Pew Environment Group created a map showing the areas that would be impacted, including Wild and Scenic rivers, Wilderness areas, National Parks, and other types of public lands. It is sobering to see incredible rivers like the Skagit, Allegheny, Rio Grande, and Allagash in the potential “no conservation here” zone.

map of area affected by bishop border bill

On Sunday, my local paper, the Seattle Times, ran a piece on H.R. 2578 written by Kesner C. Flores Jr., a representative from the National Tribal Environmental Council. I highly recommend reading it. Mr. Flores clearly explains why the bill is problematic, unnecessary, and harmful to the rights of tribal nations.

Please take a minute to contact your Senators and urge them to reject H.R. 2578 and support the conservation legacy we have developed for more than 100 years.