BC, MT say no mining or drilling in the Flathead

The Associated Press

by Matthew Brown

Leaders of Montana and British Columbia said Tuesday they will ban drilling and mining in a remote valley along the US-Canada border that companies have tried to develop for more than a quarter-century.

Proposals for gas drilling, gold exploration and coal mining are all pending in the million-acre Flathead Valley, just upstream from Glacier National Park.

An agreement to be signed next week by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell would halt ongoing exploration work and prohibit future development.

Companies with money already invested in leases or exploration could be compensated through the Canadian and U.S. governments, Schweitzer said, although details have not been worked out.

The area is a stomping ground for grizzly bears and wolves. It's known as the Crown of Continent for its grand mountain peaks.

The prospect of development had drawn international pressure to put an outright stop to mining and drilling.
As the world turns its attention on British Columbia with the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver, Lt. Gov. Steven Point said Tuesday the province wants to show its commitment to the environment.

"Mining, oil and gas development and coal-bed gas extraction will not be permitted in British Columbia's Flathead Valley," Point said in the traditional Speech from the Throne to open the Legislative Assembly session.

Schweitzer said the agreement resulted from years of negotiations. understanding the (Premier Campbell) and I are going to sign next week in Vancouver," he said.

A Canadian mining industry representative said the government would be asked to reconsider but acknowledged the chances of a reversal appear low.

Gavin Dirom, president of the British Columbia Association of Mineral Exploration, blamed U.S. interests for meddling in Canadian politics and pushing through a ban that will hurt the province's economy.

"We feel like we were bullied," Dirom said.

In Montana, Will Hammerquist with the National Parks Conservation Association said the region can now turn its attention to industries with less impact.

The state's two U.S. senators, Democrats Jon Tester and Max Baucus, welcomed the ban. They earlier asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other federal officials to put diplomatic pressure on Canada to stop development.

Energy companies have rights to at least 218,000 acres on the Montana side of the border, but drilling has been on hold there under a 1986 federal court order.

Efforts to stop mining in the region date to the 1980s, when a U.S.-Canada joint commission rejected an open pit coal mine in the valley because of potential environmental damage.

Another coal mine was proposed in recent years. Oil and gas companies also have been eyeing the area. And in December, Max Resource Corp. said it had extracted samples of high-grade gold from a ridge about 10 miles north of Glacier.

A 2003 British Columbia land-use plan for the area set mining as a high priority and said other uses such as wildlife habitat and recreation "will not preclude … approval of mining activities."

Glacier, in Montana, and Waterton International Park in Canada were designated as a World Heritage site in 1995 because of their outstanding scenery and abundant wildlife.

In January, a team of U.N. scientists recommended a moratorium on mining in the valley.