Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Montana Outdoors: How a Great Place was Saved
The Nature Conservancy: North Fork Now: Protecting the Transboundary Flathead
North Fork Preservation Association: Obama Proposes $29 Million in Montana Land Conservation Projects
Economic indicators suggest the depressed U.S. real estate market may be showing signs of recovery, however, 400,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness on the border between the United States and Canada were recently valued at the bargain price of just $10 million. The Canadian and U.S. governments finalized an agreement to preserve the North Fork of the Flathead River Valley, which runs south from the Canadian province of British Columbia into Montana and forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. The area is home to the highest concentration of grizzly bear populations on the continent and remains one of the last great wild frontiers. Elk, moose, wolves, lynx, mountain goats, and other large mammals maintain their highest population levels in North America in the Flathead Valley. Now, as a result of collaborative efforts between the countries, the valley is permanently protected from exploration, drilling, mining, and ultimately, environmental destruction.
The Flathead Valley, with its rich potential for oil, gas, coal, and gold, has long been the center of developmental disputes. Most recently, in 2005, Canadian mining companies proposed massive coal mining operations near the headwaters of the Flathead River in British Columbia. Binational efforts to preserve the land commenced immediately. The governor of Montana and the premier of British Columbia collaborated to encourage oil, gas, and mining companies to abandon their rights and leases on the land. In 2009, a UNESCO review team concluded that mining operations in the Flathead Valley would irreparably damage the ecology of Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada as well as Glacier National Park on the U.S. side of the valley. But the Flathead Valley holds vast reserves of natural resources and preservation of the valley meant the exploration companies and the Canadian government had to walk away from billions in potential revenue.
After years of negotiations and wrangling, Canadian mining companies agreed to abandon their claims to the land in exchange for compensation for exploration expenses – a mere $10 million. U.S. geophysical companies also surrendered their leasing rights paving the way for the Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act to receive approval from the Canadian Parliament on November 14, 2011.
Ironically, this highly successful collaboration ultimately hinged on one issue – how to raise the $10 million – which nearly broke the agreement. Although President Obama announced $29 million in funding for Montana land conservation projects in March 2012, the U.S. federal government declined to contribute funds to the Flathead River Valley conservation project. U.S. officials were concerned about setting a precedent by compensating foreign companies for their expenses incurred in a foreign country. The rationale being that the federal government should not use U.S. tax dollars to directly subsidize foreign private industry. Moreover, the U.S. companies holding land rights to the Flathead Valley did not request compensation for giving up their claims. In the end, the U.S.-based Nature Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy of Canada agreed to raise the $10 million and the Flathead Valley will remain untouched.