Montana Senators' North Fork bill passes committee

The North Fork Protection Act Would Prevent Any New Leases In The Watershed

(Washington D.C.) Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced today that their federal legislation to protect the Upper Flathead Valley has cleared a major hurdle.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has passed the measure that will prevent new oil, gas and mining leases in the North Fork of the Flathead. The bill is now headed to the Senate floor.

“This is tremendous news. Working together, we can protect this magnificent area so our children and grandchildren can enjoy it like we do now,” Baucus said. “Nothing is closer to my heart then getting this area protected forever, and we are getting closer and closer.”

“This is a great step forward as we work together to permanently protect the Flathead Valley and its clean water, mountains and wildlife,” said Tester, Vice Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.  “Now the next step is go get this bill passed by the whole Senate and signed into law so that we can forever ensure that our kids and grandkids can have the same opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and camp in the Flathead that we enjoy today.”

Business owners and outdoor heritage advocates are pleased with the measure.

“I am elated at the bill’s progress,” said Cris Coughlin, owner of the Glacier Wilderness Guides.  “Lasting protection of the North Fork is a critical part of Montana’s recreation economy.”

“We are pleased to see this bill, which benefits both our environment and our economy in northwest Montana, take another step in the process,” said Joe Unterreiner, chairman of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce. “

“The City of Whitefish is thrilled that the North Fork Watershed Protection Act has passed out of the Senate committee,” said Mike Jenson, Mayor of Whitefish, Montana. “This protection has been a long time coming and we greatly appreciate Senator Baucus’s efforts and perseverance.  This bill also provides some very important protections for the City of Whitefish’s watershed and continues our efforts and those of private landowners in our watershed to safeguard this vital resource.”

"The entire drainage of the North Fork of the Flathead River has been identified through the Montana Sportsmen Value Mapping Project as one the state's most prized area for big game hunting and cutthroat fishing," said William Geer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  "Montana sportsmen in 43 clubs in 32 Montana communities found this area as one of the 'best of the best' that demands a higher level of protection for  the tremendous habitat and hunting opportunities for moose, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.  The cutthroat trout fishing in the North Fork is a world class treasure as well."

Baucus and Tester are working with companies to retire oil, gas and mining leases already held in the area. So far more than ¾ of the leases have been voluntarily relinquished at no cost to taxpayers.  ConocoPhillips was the first company to retire its interest in the region.

"ConocoPhillips was happy to do its part in relinquishing oil and natural gas leases on 170,000 acres in the North Fork Basin,” said Jim Ford Vice President, Federal Government Affairs ConocoPhillips.  “We compliment Sens. Baucus and Tester for their efforts to obtain preservation status for the remainder of the watershed."

The bill -which prevents future leases on federal lands in the North Fork of the Flathead Drainage, which borders Glacier National Park- is in conjunction with similar measures in British Columbia that moved forward as part of the historic MOU signed earlier this year by the Governor of Montana and the Premier of British Columbia.  The joint effort will prevent all types of mining, oil and gas development and coalbed methane extraction on either side of the border.

Once the measure is passed by the Senate, it will head to the House of Representatives for approval before being signed into law by the President.