ENVIRONMENTAL DISPUTE: FLATHEAD RIVER, U.S. senators seek endangered listing for Waterton

ENVIRONMENTAL DISPUTE: FLATHEAD RIVER, U.S. senators seek endangered listing for Waterton by Mark Hume, September 28, 2007, The Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER — A battle between Montana and British Columbia over the fate of a river that runs south across the Canada-U.S. border may soon be brought before the United Nations, escalating a simmering regional dispute to the highest international level. Following up on recent threats to “take the gloves off” in the fight to protect the Flathead River from pollution, Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester on Wednesday wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, asking them to petition the UN to add Waterton Glacier International Peace Park to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The letter was copied to Louise Oliver, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

If granted, it would be the first endangered listing for a World Heritage site in North America, and it would be a major embarrassment to Canada in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

The listing is deserved because B.C. coal mining and methane-gas projects “will contaminate one of the park’s most pristine rivers, destroy the habitat of endangered species, and compromise the natural character that makes the Peace Park a world treasure,” the senators state in their letter.

“Given these threats, we must ask you to assist us in petitioning the World Heritage Committee to add Waterton Glacier International Peace Park to the List of World Heritage in Danger so that we can bring international pressure to bear and stop the mining and drilling proposals in their tracks.”

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell recently wrote to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer rejecting a proposal for a meeting to discuss the cross-border issue and chastising the state over its own environmental record. That prompted a warning from Mr. Baucus, who has fought to protect the Flathead for 30 years, that he and Mr. Tester were going to escalate their efforts to protect the watershed. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to stop energy development north of our border,” Mr. Baucus said in a statement posted recently on his website. Glacier National Park, one of the most revered protected areas in the U.S., is immediately south of where Alberta and B.C. meet along the Montana border.

In Alberta and Montana, the area is protected by national parks. But B.C. has only a relatively small provincial park tucked into the extreme southeastern corner of the province. The Flathead River runs through an unprotected area in B.C., along the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, before flowing south to form the western border of Glacier National Park. BP Canada Energy Co. and Cline Mining Corp., of Sudbury, are pursuing resource development projects in the area. Montana is worried pollution in B.C. will flow down tributaries into the Flathead, which is regarded as the most pristine river in the lower 48 states, and then go into Glacier National Park. Mr. Baucus helped defeat a similar B.C. coal-mining proposal in 1988, and he’s promised to do the same this time.

“Coal mining and coal-bed methane extraction pose multiple and immediate threats,” the senators state in their letter. “Coal mining and coal-bed methane extraction near the border of the park will not only be degrading downstream habitat in the park, but will also be contributing to the rapid deterioration of one of this World Heritage site’s most unique natural resources.” In 1995, UNESCO named the Peace Park a World Heritage Site. UNESCO has 30 sites on its List of World Heritage in Danger, including the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Simien National Park (Ethiopia), the walled city of Baku (Azerbaijan) and the cultural landscape of the Bamiyan Valley (Afghanistan). [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:  B.C. gets $10 million windfall to protect Flathead River Valley

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Scientists granted research window for Flathead Coalbed Methane mining ]

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