A River Bill More Popular Than Beer
It’s a rare event these days when the two major political parties in Congress can lay down their swords and agree on anything. For the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a pro-conservation bill by unanimous consent is almost unimaginable.
Yet that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when the U.S. House passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. The bill would ban all new mining and energy development on 430,000 acres in Montana’s North Fork Flathead River watershed west of Glacier National Park. It was sponsored by freshman Rep. Steve Daines (R-Montana).
If you’ve been lucky enough to float the North Fork, you’ve surely fallen under its spell. Its jade-colored water is so clear that you can see native cutthroat trout and bull trout suspended at the bottom of 20-foot deep pools. Grizzly bears, wolverine, lynx, moose and elk still roam the surrounding forest in pre-Columbian numbers. The only settlement along its banks is tiny Polebridge, home to the Polebridge Merc and the Northern Lights Saloon, one of the best bars in America. That means the stars in the night sky are “as bright as fresh struck flames,” as the late Montana author A. B. Guthrie once described them.
The North Fork bill faces one last hurdle before President Obama can sign it into law – the U.S. Senate. Last September, it sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but it still must be voted on by the full Senate. It remains to be seen when that might happen, as there is at least one unidentified senator who has placed a hold on the bill.
Congressional passage of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act would mark the end of a 40-year quest by former Montana Senator Max Baucus, now U.S. Ambassador to China, to safeguard the North Fork Flathead River watershed from industrial development. In one of his first acts as a freshman congressman, Baucus sponsored legislation to add the North, Middle and South Forks of the Flathead River to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
If and when the North Fork bill is signed into law, it will fulfill a deal agreed to by the state of Montana and the Canadian province of British Columbia in 2010 to withdraw the entire transboundary North Fork Flathead watershed from mining and energy development. British Columbia has already upheld its end of the bargain. Now it’s our turn.
Please contact your two U.S. senators and urge them to support S. 255, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, sponsored by Montana Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh. You can find your senator’s contact information on the senate website.