BC’s Most Endangered River Needs Permanent Protection

Provincial Government Must Act Immediately to Save Flathead River

A no-staking reserve in the entire Flathead River Valley should be established immediately now that the Flathead has topped BC’s most endangered rivers list for the third year in a row, a coalition of Canadian and American environmental groups said today.

“The Flathead is one of North America’s last wild rivers and has some of the purest water in the world,” said Sierra Club BC spokesperson Sarah Cox. “This special place for wildlife should be permanently off-limits to energy and mining development--and the first step to protection is a no-staking reserve that will disallow any more proposals for strip mining coal, sprawling coalbed methane development or mineral exploration in this globally-significant wilderness area.”

The second step is for the BC government to endorse a proposal to expand Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park into the lower one-third of the Flathead River Valley, which would become a National Park, say Sierra Club BC, Wildsight, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and the U.S. groups the Wilderness Society and National Parks Conservation Association. A November 2008 poll found that seven out of 10 Kootenay residents support a Flathead National Park.

A mountain top removal coal mine currently under review by BC’s Environmental Assessment Office would see pollutants and slag from the removal of 40 million tonnes of coal dumped into Foisey Creek, a Flathead tributary that scientists have identified as a “critical” site in the lifecycle of protected bull trout. The mine is one of many threats to the Flathead listed yesterday by BC’s Outdoor Recreation Council, which publishes an annual list of the province’s most endangered rivers to profile the critical role rivers play in BC’s well-being.

Casey Brennan, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies-Flathead Program Manager, said BC has failed to protect the Flathead River, which came second on the endangered rivers list in 2008 and topped the list in 2007 as well. “People in our region want the Flathead River Valley to be permanently protected. It should not be open for business as usual. The Flathead River Valley holds the missing piece of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park--a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. As the Outdoor Recreation Council pointed out in its report, we need to take action before it’s too late to save the Flathead, a pristine river that flows into Glacier National Park.” Brennan said it is “disturbing” to see that the Elk River has also been listed as endangered. “Clearly the waterways of south-eastern BC are in need of better management.”

Will Hammerquist, Glacier Program Manager for the U.S. National Parks Conservation Association, said international cooperation is needed to ensure permanent protection for the transboundary Flathead River. “The BC government needs to remember that rivers don’t recognize borders and the Flathead flows south. The governor of Montana and senators in Washington DC are willing to work with the BC government to seek a long-term solution. Protecting the Flathead River Valley is a high priority for Americans,” said Hammerquist.

The groups are also calling for Wildlife Management Area to be established in the rest of the Flathead River Valley and adjoining habitat. The BC government must agree before a National Park feasibility study can proceed.

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Contact:
Casey Brennan, Wildsight: (250) 423-2603, (250) 423-0402c
Sarah Cox, Sierra Club BC: (250) 386-5255 x 257, (250) 812-1762c
Will Hammerquist, National Parks Conservation Association: (406) 885-9455c