After 30 years of Montana resistance against mining and drilling in the Canadian Flathead, the British Columbia provincial government has formally and finally approved a law protecting the drainage from development.
The Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act, signed into law Tuesday, prohibits mining and energy extraction activities on nearly 400,000 acres in the drainage with the northernmost headwaters that flow into Montana’s North Fork Flathead drainage and on to Flathead Lake.
It is the culmination of a historic agreement reached in 2010 by then-British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
“The legislation passed and signed into law by British Columbia helps ensure the protection of the Flathead Basin and Glacier National Park for this generation and generations to come,” Schweitzer said in response to the law. “It is important that we continue to do our part to make the Memorandum of Understanding signed by former Premier Gordon Campbell and British Columbia a reality.”
For Montana’s part, there is a bill in Congress that would retire remaining federal lands in the North Fork from potentially being leased for mineral and energy development. About 80 percent of potential lease lands have already been retired.
“A generation of Canadians and Americans have been eagerly awaiting these protections for more than 30 years,” said Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent program manager for the National Parks and Conservation Association.
“Together, with our neighbors to the north, we share a responsibility to protect the treasures of The North Fork Flathead River and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Canada’s historic protection of these headwaters is an important reminder of our need for similar protections on Montana’s public lands, upstream from Glacier. Canada has acted, and now it’s our turn.”
The state of Montana owns about 17,000 acres of school trust land in the North Fork, including the Coal Creek State Forest.
None of the parcels is currently leased for mineral development. There also are no gravel permits on any of these parcels. The State Land Board agreed that a “no surface occupancy” stipulation would be applied to any potential mineral leases in the North Fork of the Flathead.
The board also agreed any future quarries or gravel operations are limited to 4.94 acres, with an annual production of no more than 20,000 tons of material.