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Glacier N.P. Threatened by Mining: U.N. to Review Threats

Wildlife Quiz: What river valley has the most important habitat for grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and lynx in the Rocky Mountains?

Hint: The river forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park, and straddles the Canadian/US border between British Columbia and Montana.

Answer: The Flathead River.

The Flathead was recently named British Columbia's most endangered river, and the fifth most endangered river in the United States.

Why? British Columbia's land use plan ensures that mining for coal and minerals can trump all other land uses in the Flathead valley.

Now active exploration is taking place in the Flathead valley for gold mining, along with studies for coal-bed methane gas drilling and plans for a mountaintop removal coal mine. This mine would dump 326 million tons of waste in the headwaters of the Flathead, allowing heavy metals and other contaminants to reach Glacier National Park within 24 hours.

Mining would also disturb sensitive wildlife, including threatened bull trout that spawn in the river's tributaries, moose and elk that spend winters in Glacier National Park and migrate north in spring, and wide-ranging carnivores that need corridors connecting them to populations in the Canadian Rockies.

In 2008, Earthjustice's International program, working with Ecojustice in Canada, petitioned the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), asking the Committee to designate Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park as a "World Heritage Site In Danger." (Glacier National Park and Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta make up the world's first transboundary World Heritage site, called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.)

An "in danger" designation would bring international attention to the threats that industrial development in the Canadian Flathead poses to the fish and wildlife of the valley and the Park. The Committee could also recommend that British Columbia revise its land use plan to prohibit mining in the Canadian Flathead.

The World Heritage Committee has notified us that our petition is on the agenda for their June 2009 meeting. More recently, Earthjustice and Ecojustice submitted a letter to the World Heritage Centre outlining our concerns. View the letter.

We'll keep you updated as this situation develops.