The proposed mining and drilling projects in the headwaters of the Flathead River, located in the south-east corner of British Columbia, threaten the ecological health of Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site straddling the Alberta-Montana border.
The Flathead watershed is essential habitat for rare and endangered species, including grizzly bears, gray wolves, lynx, wolverines, big-horn sheep, mountain goats, bull trout and westslope (blackspotted) cutthroat trout.
The Lodgepole open-pit coal mine, proposed by Cline Mining Corporation, would be located above the Foisey Creek and McLatchie Creek tributaries to the Flathead River, about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Canada-U.S. border. This mine would pollute one of the last wild waterways in North America and impact everything downstream, including Glacier National Park in the U.S.
"Dumping over 16 million tons of contaminated rock and earth every year into a major tributary of the Flathead River will have substantial impact on fish populations and adjacent wildlife," said Rob Duncan of Sierra Club BC. "Essentially, the mining company wants to blow up a mountain top and dump it in a river valley."
The Mist Mountain coalbed methane extraction project of BP Canada, meanwhile, could transform the wilderness of the upper Flathead Valley into a network of service roads, pipelines, well sites, power-lines, pumps, compressors and flaring stations. This would directly impact rare fish and wildlife by contaminating water and fragmenting habitat.
Despite assurances from BC Premier Gordon Campbell and BP America that the extraction of coalbed methane would not proceed in BC's Flathead, local project managers for BP and provincial legislators have indicated that drilling in the headwaters could begin soon. To express their concern, a coalition of groups are filing petitions calling for the International Joint Commission (a transboundary authority) and the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO to assess the threats posed by proposed coal mining and coalbed methane projects in the Flathead, one of North America's least developed watersheds.The coalition seeks protections of this wilderness and the rare and endangered species that migrate in and out of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
There is precedent for IJC intervention in issues that impact the transboundary environment and species. In 1988, the IJC made strong recommendations that blocked an open-pit coal mine proposal in the same area as the proposed Cline mine, citing serious impacts on water, wildlife and economic infrastructure. The coalition is asking the IJC to consider application of these recommendations to the current mining proposal. The groups also asked UNESCO to list Waterton-Glacier on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger at their 33rd Session in Seville, Spain, June 22-30, 2009.
Earthjustice prepared the petitions on behalf of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society -- British Columbia Chapter, the Dogwood Initiative, the Flathead Coalition, Forest Ethics, Headwaters Montana, the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club BC, the Wilderness Society, Wildsight, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.