Montana’s Senators introduce bill to protect North Fork – once and for all

Baucus, Tester Working with Canada to Halt Mining in North Fork

(Washington D.C.) Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester today introduced federal legislation to protect the Upper Flathead Valley, keeping it one of Montana’s best places to hike, fish and hunt for future generations.

The legislation is in conjunction with similar measures in British Columbia.  The joint effort will prevent new mining, oil and gas development and coalbed gas extraction on either side of the border. This bill puts a moratorium on future leases on federal lands in the North Fork of the Flathead Drainage, which borders Glacier National Park.

“This legislation is such good news- I’ve been working to protect the Flathead for more than 30 years- and this is a sign we are closer than ever to the finish line,” Baucus said. “This is about protecting the tourism economy and the outdoor heritage of one of the most beautiful places on earth. More than 90% of this land is Federal land- so it’s got to pass Congress to become a reality. We are going to get this done for our children and our children’s children.”

“A lot of folks—in Montana and across the continent—know the Flathead Valley for its clean water, mountains and wildlife,” said Tester, Vice Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.  “Canada stepped up to be a good neighbor.  Now we’re doing do our part to safeguard this area so our kids and grandkids can fish, hunt, hike and camp in it like we do.”

More than two million visitors spend more than $150 million every year in the Flathead Valley.

In a letter to Baucus, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner wrote that the legislation is good for business:

“Glacier National Park and the North Fork River Valley play a very important part in our economic vitality.  Flathead Lake also serves as a critical economic engine for the region. The Chamber wishes to ensure that Glacier Park, the North Fork River, and Flathead Lake remain as economically productive as they are today.  We think that oil and gas development in the Whitefish Range would be inconsistent with our interest to see the entire watershed protected from upstream (Canadian) pollution.  How can we ask the Canadians to forego development of their coal and gas resources within the North Fork watershed if we are not willing to make the same decision?”

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company co-owner Cris Coughlin agrees:

"As small business owners, we fully support this effort to keep the North Fork of the Flathead River special. Montana Raft Company employs over seventy people during peak season, and those jobs depend on clean water." 

Will Hammerquist, Glacier Program Manager for the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, also supports the Senators’ efforts.

“Every Montanan who cares about passing on our great outdoor heritage should applaud Senators Baucus’ and Tester’s legislation to retire these oil leases. This is another significant step by Senator Baucus in his 30-year commitment and leadership to protect Glacier and its surrounding lands.  Over 90 percent of the land-base in the U.S. North Fork is publically owned federal land; and only through the leadership of Montana’s Senators at the federal level can such a significant policy change be made.  I can’t think of a better birthday present to celebrate Glacier National Park’s Centennial.”

British Columbian leaders pledged to prevent mining on the Canadian portion of the North Fork. And while most of the legal action needed to protect British Columbia’s Flathead can be completed within the province, 575,000 of the more than 610,000 acres of the North Fork is federal land. This means that Congress must pass a law in order for Montana to protect its portion of the North Fork for traditional uses like hunting, fishing, and logging.

Baucus and Tester have long pushed to ban any new mining or development activities and praised the British Columbian government for making this important decision.  Earlier this year they asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with Canada to protect the Flathead.