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Mining, energy bans not yet binding, permanent

The recent headlines just about said it all: "B.C. Bans Mining and Energy Extraction in the Flathead." This announcement and that of senators Baucus and Tester's to introduce similar legislation, and the subsequent Memorandum of Understanding between B.C. and Montana on the Flathead represent a huge shift in our transboundary relationship with B.C. over appropriate use of the North Fork Flathead watershed.

What's unsaid, however, is that much work remains to solidify a permanent conservation solution for the Transboundary Flathead.

What's that, you say? The work's not done? The North Fork's not safe? We can't rest yet?

That's correct.  We can't ease up on the oars just yet. We have to actually pass federal legislation to make the B.C. and U.S. mining and energy bans binding and permanent.

And that's where local citizens continue to play a crucial role in protecting the Flathead. For it has been local citizen concern for our water, wildlife and outdoor heritage that has kept our politicians attention on this issue. Local folks need to keep telling our political leaders that we want the North Fork River, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake protected permanently.

To be sure, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell deserves high praise for listening and responding to his own constituents and to the international community for recognizing that the Flathead is a very special place and for banning mining and energy extraction in the Flathead. We strongly encourage folks to write and thank him at premier@gov.bc.ca.

And Gov. Schweitzer and senators Baucus and Tester deserve high praise as well for pushing this issue, sometimes bluntly, sometimes diplomatically, to the point where B.C. agreed to compromise and protect the Flathead. We encourage folks to write them as well - visit the web sites of each to send a thank you note.

However, senators Baucus and Tester and Representative Rehberg need to take two specific actions to address the unfinished conservation work on our side of the border.

First, they need to introduce legislation that retires and withdraws the existing 200,000 acres of dormant oil and gas leases in the Whitefish Range, west of the river and Glacier Park.

And second, they need to seek a bi-national agreement between Canada and the U.S. that formalizes the protection of the watershed.  Only bi-national, federal legislation can guarantee that the Flathead's water remains clean and pure for generations to come.

You can play a direct role now by locking down the huge breakthrough with our neighbors to the north.  Please write Baucus, Tester and Rehberg and ask them to move quickly to pass legislation that permanently protects the North Fork, Glacier Park and Flathead Lake.

You can become a “Voice for the North Fork” by writing to info@headwatersmontana.org.

(Editor's note: Dave Hadden is director of Headwaters Montana, a local, non-profit conservation organization that has focused on the Transboundary Flathead issue.)

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