Tag Archives: transboundary Flathead

Beyond the border: A tale of two rivers

Kootenai River
Kootenai River

One of the North Fork Preservation Association’s founding goals was fighting resource extraction upstream in the Canadian Flathead Valley. This article provides a vivid illustration of what could have happened in the transboundary Flathead and what did happen in the Elk/Kootenai watershed just to our west . . .

On a recent late-August morning, buzzing above the peak-studded North Fork Flathead River Valley in a single-engine Cessna, the familiar summits of Glacier National Park dominated the view to the east, revealing a sky-high harbor of sapphire-green amphitheaters filigreed with waterfalls and bejeweled with cerulean lakes, representing a sliver of the one-million-acre ecosystem permanently protected from the intrusions of industry.

On board the six-seater plane were Erin Sexton, a senior research scientist with the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, and Richard Janssen, head of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ (CSKT) Natural Resource Department, as well as a trio of journalists and pilot Bruce Gordon, founder of the nonprofit EcoFlight, which for more than three decades has worked to illuminate critical environmental issues on western landscapes.

Cruising amid calm, clear skies, Gordon’s flight plan called for an aerial tour of the North Fork Flathead River Valley girding Glacier Park and spanning the U.S.-Canada border, where mining and energy development has been banned for years, before crossing over into the Elk and Kootenai (spelled Kootenay in Canada) River Basin south of Fernie, British Columbia (B.C.), below which a chain of open-pit coal mines is responsible for leaching harmful pollutants into Montana.

Continue reading . . .

[Update: September 30] See also this photo-heavy article from the National Wildlife Federation about the same flight: An Eye in the Sky: Transboundary Mining.

Thesis discusses environmental governance in the Transboundary Flathead

North Fork Flathead River, May 16, 2018 - by William K. Walker
North Fork Flathead River, May 16, 2018 – by William K. Walker

Many of you have met and interacted with the steady stream of University of Montana geography students visiting the North Fork over past years. One of them, Jedd Sankar-Gorton, used his studies of the Transboundary Flathead as the basis for his master’s thesis. Here’s an introduction to his work written by Lois Walker…

Jedd Sankar-Gorton recently graduated with an M.S. degree in Geography from the University of Montana. His master’s thesis focuses on efforts to secure joint U.S.-Canadian protections for the upper reaches of the Flathead River from 1974-2014. It’s worth a read. For the benefit of future researchers, he has pulled together in one place an extensive body of reference material related to preservation efforts in the upper Flathead.

While this study primarily discusses proposed coal mining in British Columbia, it draws attention to other potential environmental threats to the river, as well. In the broader context, he highlights the thorny diplomatic challenges that governments around the world face as they try to design and implement effective management of transboundary waters. The bottom line is that, although we have secured some basic protections for the Flathead, there is still much that can be done to improve dialogue with our Canadian neighbors and craft more coordinated environmental management of the river system.

40 Years on the International Flathead River: An Assessment of Environmental Governance by Jedd Sankar-Gorton (PDF, 1.35MB)

Glacier’s headwaters: Water tower to our continent

North Fork of the Flathead River - ©Mark LaRowe
North Fork of the Flathead River – ©Mark LaRowe

A few days ago, the National Parks Conservation Association released their Summer 2017 Field Report for the Northern Rockies. In it was an article by Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent Program Manager, that is highly relevant to the North Fork, as well as any other region downstream of the Canadian Rockies. By permission of the author, it is reprinted here in its entirety . . .

People tend to think Glacier National Park is all about mountains.

And people are wrong.

Glacier is also about water: icy cold water rushing clean and clear across gravel and stone; whitewater plunging over cliff-band falls; sky-blue water eddying into lakes set like sapphires into the deep green of wilderness.

From the summit of the park’s Triple Divide Peak, meltwater flows west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic, north to the Arctic by way of Hudson Bay. Glacier is water tower to a continent, spiked by peaks sharpened on a grindstone of Pleistocene ice.

I recently flew north out of Glacier, over a long slice of Alaska—another place branded by its mountains. Chugach. Wrangell-St. Elias. The Aleutians and Brooks and Chilkats.

But Alaska, like Glacier, is not really about mountains.

What I saw unfolding below was, again, a wild country defined by water: an endless winding coastline; miles of muskeg pooling like quicksilver; rivers washing the feet of mountains, slicing tundra and stone, spilling sediment braids into an ocean the color of steel.

Montana and Alaska are alike in this way. They also share a common headwater: British Columbia.

Continue reading Glacier’s headwaters: Water tower to our continent

CSKT urges bi-national involvement as B.C. coal mining pollutants Increase

The upcoming meeting between President Obama and Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is drawing a lot of attention to transboundary environmental issues . . .

On March 10, President Obama will host a state dinner at the White House for newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the first time such an event has occurred for a Canadian leader in nearly two decades.

The historic gathering between the two liberal leaders could signal a watershed moment for the conservation world, which is on high alert as stakeholders attempt to ensure that a suite of transboundary natural resource measures figure prominently on the menu, including a call by Montana’s largest tribal government to address concerns over mining contaminants in the state’s waterways.

On both sides of the border, the growing wish list of environmental measures is unspooling rapidly.

Read more . . .

Debo Powers: Is Canadian logging a threat to pristine drainage?

Debo Powers, president of the North Fork Preservation Association, had an excellent op-ed on the Daily Inter Lake yesterday talking about heavy logging in the Canadian Flathead drainage . . .

The North Fork of the Flathead River has long been recognized as an internationally special stream, both in Canada and the United States. As such, the drainage has been managed with unusual care and attention on both sides of the international line.

But recent activity on the British Columbia side of the North Fork Valley should have all of us on alert. Especially those of us who care deeply about clean water, native trout, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake.

Over the past decades, much of the concern over the North Fork of the Flathead has focused on energy and coal development. And rightly so. Mountain-removal coal mining would have had devastating effects on the clean water that pours out of Canada, into Northwest Montana.

Thankfully, we’ve put that concern behind us via international agreements. But now we need similar, international agreements on how the North Fork of the Flathead Valley is going to be logged, particularly north of the border.

Obviously, logging does not have nearly the impact of coal mining. Trees grow back. Timber harvest can be compatible with keeping the North Fork healthy. But it’s compatible only if done correctly, up to modern scientific standards and with full transparency.

Two companies, Canfor and Jemi Fibre, are cutting or plan to cut large swaths of forest in the British Columbia Flathead. It’s worth noting that clearcut logging of such massive scale would simply not be allowed in the United States. In addition, the United States would have much stricter guidelines — such as how heavy equipment is used and requiring buffer zones around streams.

These are not just any streams. The logging is proposed around Foisey and McClatchie Creeks. These are major tributaries of the North Fork. Not only are they the source of clean water that eventually flows into Flathead Lake, they are major spawning tributaries for bull trout migrating out of Flathead Lake.

In particular, Jemi Fibre’s plans to log “Sportsman’s Ridge” are of particular concern. This area produces 30-40 percent of the bull trout in the North Fork. As the name implies, it is rich with wildlife.

On July 17, Sen. Jon Tester wrote Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to broach the subject of watershed management in the North Fork with the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Sen. Tester wrote, “…proposed logging in the Canadian Flathead near McLatchie and Foisey Creeks [major tributaries to the North Fork] have Montanans and federal agencies very concerned about adverse downstream impacts on water quality and wildlife… Sedimentation from large-scale timber harvest has great potential to negatively affect” the North Fork.

Flathead Trout Unlimited raised the alarm on Canadian logging in the watershed. I am grateful for their vigilance.

Please note that no one is saying the North Fork should be entirely off-limits to logging. There is room for sustainable timber harvest here, and we know logging can be light on the land and even beneficial for some wildlife species. We are simply saying that Canada and Montana should be good neighbors when planning this logging.

Experts from both countries should carefully think out logging plans. Those plans should employ the latest science and the best management practices to protect the wildlife, fish and water we share. After all, those resources move freely over the international border.

The North Fork of the Flathead Valley is a truly special place. Generations of Montanans and Canadians have worked together to keep it that way. Ultimately, the citizens of each nation have the final responsibility to be good stewards, and good neighbors.

I encourage Montana’s entire congressional delegation and Gov. Steve Bullock to speak clearly and respectfully to their Canadian counterparts: Let’s work together to keep the North Fork special, before it’s too late.

Bat bio-blitz expands knowledge of region’s bats

This summer’s bat survey throughout the U.S. and Canadian Flathead Valley gave researchers valuable new information about the region’s bat population . . .

Given the ill perception of bats, the winged mammals might not figure prominently into the public’s catalog of critters worth protecting in Montana, but if western bat populations plummeted, as they have in other parts of North America, residents would take notice.

Millions of bats are dying across eastern North America because of a fungal disease called white nose syndrome, and the potential for dramatic ecological imbalances has researchers scrambling to learn more about the fungus.

Bat biologists in the Flathead Valley of Montana and British Columbia recently conducted a so-called “bio-blitz” of research, compiling data they will add to last year’s bat inventory in the Upper Flathead River drainage – the first formal inventory of its kind – and releasing a report called “July 2014 Bat Inventory of Flathead River Valley.”

Read more . . .

Polebridge Merc hosts “Transboundary” interpretive trail

Will Hammerquist of the Polebridge Mercantile got together with several conservation groups to sponsor a “Transboundary” interpretive trail . . .

Several U.S. and Canadian environmental groups have carved out a new educational “Transboundary” trail up the North Fork on land owned by the Polebridge Mercantile.

The quarter-mile long stroll runs through scrub brush left from the 1988 Red Bench Fire and offers expansive views of the Livingston Range.

Several interpretive signs along the path provide information on history, geography and biology of the area, historic perspectives, threats to the ecosystem as well as triumphs, including efforts to ban coal and other mining projects in the watershed.

Read more . . .

B.C. Parliament settles with Cline Mining for lost Flathead coal rights

Looks like Cline Mining has gone from major watershed threat to final bankruptcy . . .

The Parliament of British Columbia has agreed to a nearly $10 million settlement with a mining company that lost its right to develop coal deposits in the transboundary Flathead River near Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park.

The bankrupt Cline Mining Corp. announced Monday it had reached the out-of-court settlement after claiming it was losing a $500 million potential operation. The B.C. government had revoked mining rights as part of the Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act in 2010. That legislation solidified an agreement worked out with former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana to protect the Flathead River.

A similar U.S. measure, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, has passed the House of Representatives but has been blocked in the Senate. It would place the Montana side of the river, known as the North Fork of the Flathead, off limits to energy development. The international agreement allows logging, gravel mining and other recreation activities.

Read more . . .

Baucus praises Teck Resources’ conservation efforts near North Fork

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus had nice things to say about Teck Resources’ conservation efforts in the Canadian Flathead and continued his push to pass the North Fork Watershed Protection Act . . .

Last week Canadian mining giant Teck Resources announced its plans to purchase nearly 28 square miles of private land north of Glacier National Park to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

The deal surfaced as Montana’s representatives on Capitol Hill keep pushing for federal legislation formally protecting the Flathead watershed, primarily the North Fork Flathead River basin.

In 2010, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell signed a memorandum of understanding that prohibited new energy development on the North Fork, agreeing to bar mining, oil and gas development and coalbed gas extraction in B.C.’s portion of the Flathead Valley. The B.C. government in 2011 passed the Flathead Watershed Conservation Act, which bans mining and oil and gas activity in the B.C. Flathead.

Actual legislation supporting the 2010 agreement has yet to emerge on the U.S. side though.

Read more . . .

A senator’s fight to protect the Flathead’s North Fork

North Forker Doug Chadwick has an excellent article on the National Geographic web site discussing Sen. Max Baucus’ decades-long efforts to protect the North Fork Flathead watershed and the reasons behind this work . . .

Daybreak on August 8 found me on a bank of the North Fork of the Flathead River in northwestern Montana, among the mixed tracks of deer, otters, and grizzly bears, marveling, as I have a thousand times before, at the near-magical transparency of these waters.

The bottom stones stood out as if on display under glass. Decades ago, my wife and I built a cabin nearby.

Across the river on the east bank, in Glacier National Park, the campers were stirring in their tents and the first cars were snaking up the Going to the Sun Road. But I was headed west that day, into the Whitefish Range, to see a man about the future of this valley.

Read more . . .