Bergenske tours Flathead with US dignitaries

Annalee Grant
Kimberley Daily Bulletin and Cranbrook Daily Townsman
August 13, 2009

Wildsight Executive Director John Bergenske toured the American side of the Flathead Valley on tuesday to discuss potential mining in the pristine valley.

"The world is watching," said Bergenske.

Bergenske met with US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Chairman of the US Senate Committee Max Baucus on the bank of the Flathead River.

The tour comes after an international coalition of conservation groups, including Wildsight, successfully petitioned the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to come to the Flathead Valley to evaluate and determine whether the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park within the valley should be put on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

The UNESCO board voted unanimously to send scientists to the park, and requested that both Canada and the US prepare a joint report on what proposed mining near the Waterton-Glacier would do to the area to present at the next World Heritage Committee meeting.

Bergenske says that once the park is designated a site in danger, recommendations will be made on what must be done to preserve the valley.

"There's no way to say what those recommendations would be," said Bergenske.

Canada is part of a voluntary coalition to protect UNESCO sites.

"The Flathead Valley is an international treasure that we share with our American neighbours," said Bergenske.

"Proposed coal mines, coal bed methane extraction, and gold exploration threaten wildlife, pristine waters, and the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park."

Bergenske and Wildsight have received some high up support in the American government; in 2008 President Barack Obama released a statement issuing his support.

"The Flathead River and Glacier National Park are treasures that should be preserved for future generations," the report said.

"Wildsight and our international coalition is pleased that the Obama Administration understands the tremendous value of the Flathead River Valley and is committed to cooperating with the government of Canada to ensure that the World Heritage Committee's scientific mission, and the joint report on mining impacts, are thorough," said Bergenske. "It just goes to demonstrate the importance of the Flathead on a global basis."

The Flathead Wild coalition is asking the government of BC to legislate no mining, oil or gas development, establish a Wildlife Management Area throughout the Flathead and surrounding areas and to establish a National Park Wilderness Reserve in the southeastern part of the valley.

"It's always hard to get attention to issues in BC that aren't close to a major centre," said Bergenske.

MLA Bill Bennett, also Minister for Rural and Community Development responded to the visit saying that the issue is not who cares about the Flathead the most.

"We all care about the Flathead," said Bennett. "BC is proud of its record on the Canadian side of the Flathead."

Bennett says the province has been managing the area for 50 years, and is committed to continuing the work they've been doing.

"We have no intention of letting those values be undermined," said Bennett.

Bennett does not agree with Bergenske's opinion that a park needs to be put into place ot manage the area to protect it from potential mining.

"Nobody wants the Flathead to be like the Elk Valley, with five coal mines," he said.

"The fact that Bill recognizes that is a good thing," said Bergenske. "If he's going to follow through on that, we'Re certainly happy to work with him. We're happy he's taken that perspective."

Bennett says the provincial government does not have any specific plans for the Flathead yet, but that a decision is coming.

"I don't know how we're going to deal with it, but we're going to," said Bennett.