Coalition Presents Mining Threats to U.N. Scientists

Protections urged for Flathead basin, rich in wildlife and water resources

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A United Nations investigation is focusing much-needed international attention on mining and drilling threats to the Flathead River basin, home to the highest density of grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains, and to bull trout, bald eagle, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, deer, mountain lion, lynx, wolves, and wolverines.

The Flathead River stretches from southern Canada into Montana and along the way flanks Montana’s stunning Glacier National Park. The region comprising Glacier N.P. and Waterton Lakes—Glacier’s Canadian sister park—is a World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

"The world has a stake in what happens here at Waterton-Glacier," declared Kishore Rao, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre for the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), upon beginning a week-long inquiry into mining and drilling on lands adjacent to Glacier N.P. and Waterton Lakes.

I presented information to Rao and his UNESCO colleague Paul Dingwall as the international body’s investigation began on September 21 in West Glacier, Montana. Since 2008, Earthjustice has represented the eleven groups that are petitioning UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to urge stronger protection of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Concerned citizens and scientists on both sides of the border are calling on British Columbia and Montana to permanently protect the outstanding landscapes and wildlife of the Flathead River basin, which has some of the purest water and unspoiled wildlife habitats in North America. Most urgently, the coalition is urging the provincial government of British Columbia to permanently protect the Flathead valley from energy development and gold mining. 

In June, the coalition of Flathead conservationists sent representatives to lobby delegates at the annual session of the World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain. At the same time, 53,000 citizens from across Canada and the United States wrote to decision makers in support of the petition. A video message from Salish-Kootenay tribal leadership to UNESCO also supported the call to prevent pollution in the headwaters of the Flathead River.

As a result, the Committee voted unanimously to urge Canada not to allow coal mining and coalbed methane drilling in the headwaters of the Flathead River that flows from British Columbia into Glacier National Park

Immediately afterward, Bill Bennett, the local member of the legislative assembly for southeastern British Columbia who had long supported mining in the Flathead, reversed his stance.

In an encouraging development elsewhere in Canada, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador recently reversed his support for running new power lines through Gros Morne National Park, also a World Heritage site. His decision was due in part, he said, to avoid threatening its UNESCO World Heritage status. Perhaps his change of heart was influenced by the Flathead coalition’s successful petition and lobbying of the World Heritage Committee.

We will keep you updated on the outcome of the UN mission to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Tim joined Earthjustice in 2000. Today, he heads the Biodiversity Defense Program. Tim is a recognized expert in public lands, wildlife, and natural resources law whose work has preserved millions of acres of public lands, protected wildlife including grizzly bears and wolves, and ensured sound management of our nation’s natural environment.