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Proposed Flathead Park Gets a Boost From the U.N.

The Crown of the Continent ecosystem, which includes B.C.’s Flathead River Valley, is “one of the most diverse and ecologically intact natural ecosystems in the temperate zones of the world.National Geographic

Last month, in Brasilia, Brazil, at it’s annual meeting, the UNESCO World Heritage committee released it’s mission report on the upper Flathead in Montana and British Columbia. In September, the committee sent a monitoring mission to the Waterton/Glacier region in response to threats from coal mining proposals from Cline Mining and others. A petition by 11 U.S. and Canadian conservation organizations asked the U.N. to consider designating the area a “World Heritage Site in Danger”. due to mining and other threats.

The UNESCO report issued conclusions and recommendations based on the findings of the mission. Finding that more needs to be done to protect this unique area, and calling the Flathead “one of the last of America’s remaining wild rivers and of global ecological significance.” they said the area should be regulated under a single management plan.

There are reported to be more than 1,200 species of vascular plants, 70 species of mammals, including all N. America’s native carnivores, 270 species of birds and 25 species of fish among an aquatic life richer than any place in the Rockies between the Yukon and Mexico.

Among the conclusions of the committee:

  • There is, in the view of the mission, no possibility of proceeding with mining in the Flathead watershed without creating an unacceptable direct impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and there does not appear to be a compromise position in this regard.
  • Retention of the large expanse of natural landscape in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem is of vital importance for avoiding habitat fragmentation and providing the ecosystem connectivity essential for the growth and survival of native plants and animals in the region.
  • Wide-spread and rapid environmental and ecological changes are occurring in the Waterton- Glacier property, and throughout the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, as a result of changing atmospheric conditions and climatic regimes.

Some of the committee’s recommendations:

  • If the Lodgepole coal mine proposal should move into the application review stage of environmental assessment, the mission considers that this would constitute a basis for inscribing the Waterton-Glacier property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.
  • Steps should also be taken to minimise the barrier to wildlife connectivity due to mining, transportation and communication lines and associated developments in the Crowsnest Pass of B.C., and where such barriers exist, appropriate mitigation measures should be planned and implemented.
  • Recognising that although there are two park jurisdictions in the WH property it should be managed holistically as one property, there should be a review and strengthening of institutional arrangements related to management of the property.
  • Recognising the clear evidence for ecological and environmental stress under changing climatic regimes, specific programs of management and associated monitoring and research should be developed to combat climate change impacts.

This report gives further emphasis to the push to expand Waterton Park in the upper Flathead and to further protect this extraordinary, intact ecosystem. You can read the entire report on the flathead.ca website.  In February, B.C. banned mining and energy development in the basin and action is taking place on both sides of the border to increase protections for the area, but threats remain. Besides the mining threat the Sierra Club notes that, “a timber company is currently preparing to carry out clear-cut logging in the Flathead area, while another business is set to quarry 20,000 tons of rock.

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