Flathead visit by UN scientists complete

Two international scientists sent to investigate potential mining activities in the Flathead River Valley wrapped up their fact-finding tour at a meeting in Fernie, B.C., in late September. They were sent by the United Nations World Heritage Committee (WHC).
Fernie is just north of the Flathead Valley, which is threatened by coal and gold mining as well as future coalbed methane development. These threats caused heads to turn at the annual meeting of the WHC in Spain earlier this year, prompting the committee to recommend that there be an investigation in the Flathead as soon as possible.

“B.C.’s portion of the Flathead is right beside the Waterton-Glacier World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve,” said Casey Brennan, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies program manager.

“Alberta and Montana have protected their parts of this amazing ecosystem, but B.C. has not. Mining in B.C.’s Flathead could create devastating consequences to the heritage
site — as well as to the Flathead River Valley itself.”

Brennan said even though the B.C. Flathead has escaped a number of attempts to industrialize it, pressures to mine there are as strong as ever. “A company just recently got the go-ahead to explore for gold in the Howell Creek,” he said. “It’s a main tributary in the Flathead Valley watershed.”

In June, the World Heritage Committee also asked Canada and the U.S. to work together on a report — due this February — that examines all Flathead energy and mining proposals and their cumulative impacts.

“Now we’ve just got to wait for the results of the fact-finding mission which are due next year,” Brennan said. “We hope the B.C. government leads the way by protecting the lower third of the B.C. Flathead as a park and by revising the management plan of the rest of the valley. Perhaps the easiest step the Province could take right away
would be to put a moratorium on all mining and staking activities in the Flathead River Valley.”

Brennan said the current management plan governing the Flathead puts mining interests above water, wildlife and all other values.

“That has to change to ensure this area — one of the continent’s most important wildlife habitats and corridors — doesn’t fall prey to the ‘too little, too late’ syndrome.”

Brennan looks forward to reviewing the recommendations made by the World
Heritage Committee scientists next June, when UNESCO holds its next annual meeting in Brazil.