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Lest We Forget

raveThis week, eight internationally-known photographers are encamped in the Transboundary Flathead creating images of the area threatened by coal development. The camping trip is sponsored by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) as part of what they are calling the Flathead RAVE, or Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition. The photographers will “be working closely with conservation organizations on the ground and will also be joined by world class filmmakers, journalists and scientists” to document this unique ecological gem. Photos will be posted on the Web and made available to the public as part of an attempt to draw the attention of the world to this outstanding area currently threatened by mountain-top-removal coal mining.

Last month, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations voted to send a delegation to the Canadian Flathead to evaluate threats to Glacier and Waterton parks posed by plans for coal and gas mining. The committee’s vote was in response to a petition filed by Earthjustice on behalf of eleven conservation organizations and over 53,000 letters of support from the U.S. and Canada. Petitioners hope that a strong message from the international community in support of this unique habitat will send a strong message to the government of British Columbia. The committee report will be released by Feb. 2010.

Mountain-top removal in the neighboring Elk River Valley

Mountain-top removal in the neighboring Elk River Valley

The the 41,134 square kilometer Crown of the Continent ecosystem, as the area bordering the two parks is known, is home to threatened or endangered populations of grizzly bear, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, bull trout, goshawk, Lewis’ woodpecker, mottled sculpin and the tailed frog, the most primitive frog species in the world and many others. It also contains 300 species of aquatic insects, 10 species of native fish and 12 species of introduced fish. The drainage lays 38% in British Columbia and 62% in Montana. The Canadian portion has the highest diversity of vascular plants anywhere in Canada.

Cline Mining Corporation, a Canadian-based mining development company has leases for two large mountain-top-removal coal mines just north of the U.S./Canadian border in British Columbia. The mines sit astride two important tributaries to the Flathead River which would become dumping grounds for toxic waste material from the coal mines. Cabin Creek, Sage Creek and Foisey Creek are important spawning and rearing streams for threatened bull trout in the Flathead drainage.  The area was also under consideration for coal bed methane gas development by British Petroleum, but those plans were put on hold last year due in part to the public outcry.

The Canadian Flathead

The Canadian Flathead

Dr. Jack Stanford, director of the University of Montana Yellow Bay research station has said of the Transboundary Flathead, “I hypothesize that the highest level of species diversity in the Rocky Mountains, if not the entire continent may occur in these floodplains”. We are looking forward to the products produced by the RAVE and you can be sure to hear more about this special area in future issues of the Button Valley Bugle.

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