Flathead history

Letter to the Editor
By Ted Ralfe, Fernie
Fernie Free Press
October 1, 2009

In the September 24 issue, the President of the East Kootenay Chamber of Mines gave us his short historical synopsis of the history of the Flathead for the past 117 years. His conclusion is that since its condition is still unmatched in North America, that status quo with respect to its governance is just fine and no further protection is warranted.

He recites the fears of danger to the transborder Flathead through logging and mining in BC expressed in the 1970s and 1980s, turned out to be unwarranted.

The specific mining project that triggered all the concern back then was the proposed Cabin Creek Coal Mine. That project was not stopped by any rigorous management on the part of BC.

In fact, it eventually stopped because enough citizens on both sides of the border organized and expressed their concern that intervention by the International Joint Commission was dictated.

After an exhaustive review by scientists from both sides of the border, in 1988, the IJC recommended that the mine not be approved unless and until it can be demonstrated that:

1. The potential transboundary impacts identified in the international study have been determined with reasonable certainty and would constitute a level of risk acceptable to both governments; and,

2. The potential impacts on the sport fishing populations and habitat in the Flathead River system would not occur.

Then, it addressed future similar proposals with this recommendation:

3. "The Governments consider, with the appropriate jurisdictions, opportunities for defining sustainable development activities and management strategies in the upper Flathead River basin."

The BC provincial government has never accepted these IJC recommendations.

Rather than make serious attempts to implement recommendation 3 or the Environmental Cooperation Arrangement, BC's land use management regime for the region places mining and oil and gas above all other values to be considered. That is, above water and air quality, wildlife habitat, landscape disturbance, whatever.

It was only due to vocal opposition by individuals and groups on both sides of the border in the 1970s and 1980s that the attention of the IJC fell on the Flathead.

For people to now forget that and leave the care of this special place in the hands of Victoria would be to ignore the lessons of history.

Those of us not prepared to do that are not denying that BC's heritage includes exploration, mining, logging agriculture, logging, hunting, trapping, fishing, as well as other outdoor recreation.

What we are standing up for is the proposition that some places are just not appropriate for some of those activities. The Flathead is simply not a place for mining or oil and gas extraction.