Closing the door on mining in the North Fork Flathead

The North Fork of the Flathead River borders Glacier National Park's western edge.

The North Fork of the Flathead River borders Glacier National Park’s western edge.

A Bill making its way through Congress would move a step closer to closing the door on mining in the North Fork Flathead. The North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 was recently reintroduced by Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

The Act takes US Forest Service

land next to Glacier National Park off the table for future oil and gas development. Senator Baucus’s office said more than 80-percent of the leases held for the North Fork have been voluntarily retired by the lease holders. This bill doesn’t affect the remaining lease holders, but efforts are ongoing to encourage the retirement of the remaining leases.

Glacier Program Manager Michael Jamison with the National Parks Conservation Association said the North Fork Watershed Protection Act follows up an agreement reached between former Governor Brian Schweitzer and former British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell in a Memorandum  of Understanding (MOU) in 2010 to protect the cross-border watershed. The North Fork springs from headwaters north of the border in a coal-rich part of British Columbia.

The Canadians followed up on the M-O-U in 2011 with legislation that made the headwaters area off limits for industrial development.

Jamison said the conversation is continuing with Canadians to preserve the area. He called the area unique and remarkable as an example of an intact ecosystem with the same predator-prey relationships that existed when Europeans first arrived.

“There’s really nothing else like it,” Jamison said. He described the North Fork as ecological and economic headwaters.

“We have 30-years of trans-boundary history relative to the conservation of this place, and there’s a lot of science that’s been done, and there’s a lot of interest that’s been placed on it, with Glacier Park and Flathead Lake immediately downstream, there’s tremendous interest from both sides of the political aisle,” Jamison said.

Senator Baucus has been involved with the North Fork of the Flathead since he was first elected as a Representative in 1974. Baucus pushed for the Flathead River to be designated a Wild and Scenic River, which it was in 1976. In 2010 some of the oil and gas companies that voluntarily gave up their leases in the North Fork include ConocoPhilips, Chevron, and a subsidiary of Exxon / Mobile.

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