The Vancouver Sun is reporting today that a United Nations committee will recommend a moratorium on mining in the Flathead Valley of southeastern British Columbia and the development of a conservation and wildlife management plan for the transboundary Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park which lies on both sides of the U.S and Canadian border.
Stephen Morris, chief of International Affairs for the National Park Service, told the Sun that he has received a copy of a fact-finding mission report by two UN World Heritage officials who visited the area in September.
The report will be officially presented to the July meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Brazil. Canada and the U.S. will also offer their own responses at that meeting.
Tim Preso of Earthjustice Northern Rockies said:
“The World Heritage Committee Advisory Bodies have recognized what countless Americans and Canadians have understood for years — the Flathead River valley is too special to mine. This valley needs to be protected from mining and oil and gas development to preserve the world-class natural resources of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
“The Canadian Flathead River valley is a wild ecosystem, functioning as it has for thousands of years. This is a place where all of the original wildlife species native to the region still exist and thrive. The Canadian Flathead is a jewel worth saving.”
Jessica Lawrence of the Earthjustice International Program said:
“UNESCO’s experts know what they’re talking about. They monitor hundreds of the world’s most spectacular natural and cultural sites. Now that they’ve visited Canada’s Flathead River valley, they agree that the global ecological significance of the region is threatened by mining proposals.
“This valley is a crucial wildlife corridor connecting Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to World Heritage sites further north, including Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks. Canada’s Flathead valley is threatened by proposed mountain-top removal coal mines, gold mines, and gas drilling. British Columbia’s land-use plan prioritizes mining right up to the US border, and the boundary of Glacier National Park. If Canada’s Flathead valley is destroyed by mountain-top removal coal mines and other industry, then grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, lynx, marten and many other Rocky Mountain species won’t stand a chance against climate change.
“Visitors from around the world come to the ‘Crown of the Continent’ to experience pristine wilderness and wildlife. If British Columbia permanently protects the area, it enables sustainable economies to grow in both British Columbia and Montana. Mining for short-term gain is just not compatible with long term ecological and economic health in this region.”
Conservation groups, led by Earthjustice and its Canadian counterpart Ecojustice, petitioned the United Nations in 2008 to investigate mining activities that could devastate a national park and a World Heritage site spanning the U.S.-Canadian border.
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 Canadian headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River is an intact wild watershed that provides 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.
The groups filed petitions that called for 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.
Last June, UNESCO’s 21-member World Heritage Committee voted unanimously at a meeting in Seville, Spain, to send a mission to “evaluate and provide recommendations on the requirements for ensuring the protection” of the park.
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.