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Eastern Montana Gets No Respect

Brad Sauer, left, and Mark Fix hold a sign they’d like to see posted on Tongue River crossings.

Now, here’s a campaign we can all get behind. A group of ranchers in the Tongue River Valley, supported by the Northern Plains Resource Council, are pushing to rename the Tongue River, the East Fork of the Flathead River. When the Flathead was threatened by coal and methane resource development, the Montana Congressional Delegation fell all over one another to ante up protections for that special area. Tongue River area residents see it as only fair that their threatened waterway receive the same consideration.

Northern Plains Resource Council and its member ranchers and farmers along the Tongue say by changing the name they hope to get the Governor and other statewide officials to offer equal protections for this area that recently were granted the North Fork of the Flathead, which flows from southeastern British Columbia into northwestern Montana. The group is willing to apply to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the name of the Tongue River.

They even succeeded in getting Miles City mayor, Joe Whalen to sign on. Whalen signed a proclamation on Thursday (April 1) naming the section of the river that runs by Miles City, the “East Fork of the Flathead River”. “In the proclamation, Whalen said ‘the water quality of both the Tongue and Flathead rivers have been threatened by the discharges of coalbed methane wastewater.'”

Following the Otter Creek giveaway to coal giant, Arch Coal by the State Land Board and the all-to-real threat from the now-probable building of the Tongue River Railroad, the river valley is now facing the same threats that gained protection for the Flathead. Residents see a double standard in saving the Flathead and ignoring the needs of the agricultural communities and landowners along the Tongue River.

Fix referred to the various threats and realities to the proposed East Fork of the Flathead that include coal mining, leaking coal ash ponds, a proposed railroad through the heart of the valley, illegal dumping of salty water from coal bed methane wells and the resulting destruction of crops, the dewatering of aquifers, and the drying up of wells and springs that senior water rights holders depend upon.

The Bugle editorial staff stands resolutely behind creating equal protections for the Tongue River Valley and we believe that the deal reached to protect the Flathead drainage should provide a good example for our legislators in safeguarding our precious treasures from greedy, multinational extractive syndicates. Besides, look at all the new bull trout habitat we would gain by increasing the size of the Flathead watershed.

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