More than $10 million has been raised to help protect the Flathead Valley.
Through a collaboration with conservation groups, the Government of Canada and private donors, the multi-million dollar funding will go to the British Columbia government to implement the Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act, which was passed last year.
The legislation permanently prohibits coal mining, as well as exploration and development of oil, gas and mineral resources on nearly 400,000 acres in the Flathead, southeast of Fernie.
“This particular money was given to the province to allow us to compensate the mining companies whose tenures we took back when we took mining and oil and gas out of the Flathead,” explained Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.
The Government of Canada contributed $5.4 million, while global private equity firm Warburg Pincus put in $2.5 million. The rest came from private donors.
The announcement was celebrated with a function at St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino on Thursday, September 13, attended by Environment Canada Minister Peter Kent and the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.
On Friday, Minister Kent joined MLA Bennett, Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese, Nature Conservancy of Canada president John Lounds and The Nature Conservancy (an unaffiliated global conservation group) president Mark Tercek, as well as Charles R. Kaye, co-president of Warburg Pincus.
Along with representatives of the conservancy organizations, the group filled six helicopters for a flight to the top of Mount Hefty in the Flathead Range, to see just what was being protected.
In 2010, then-Premier Gordon Campbell and Governor Schweitzer signed a memorandum of understanding to prohibit mining and the development of oil, gas and coal resources throughout the B.C. Flathead. It is adjacent to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which is also a designated World Heritage Site and a UN Biosphere Reserve.
But local conservation group Wildsight said much work still needs to be done to permanently protect the Flathead.
“The ban on energy and mining development is a great first step, but the job is far from complete,” said Wildsight’s executive director John Bergenske.
“We continue to work to see part of the Flathead, the southeastern one-third, brought into the missing piece of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and put in a Wildlife Management Area, which would continue to allow the existing uses but would make sure the extremely high wildlife values of the Flathead always take precedence,” he went on.
Wildsight’s ultimate dream would be to see some of the Flathead made a national park, said Bergenske.
“We feel that with a national park completing the Waterton-Glacier complex in that one portion of the Flathead, that basically makes sure that any of the activities that take place are maintaining the wildlife values.”
However, MLA Bennett said that a national park is not the answer.
“The irony is, if a national park was created, what we would have seen today is hundreds and hundreds of tourists crawling around the Flathead. We saw nobody,” Bennett said Friday. “That would not improve the eco system; it would hurt it.”
According to Bennett, all those present for this week’s celebrations made it clear that protection of the Flathead was already being achieved.
“I was really relieved and pleased to hear Peter Kent, the Governor of Montana and the Nature Conservancy all express their support for this management model we have in place that does not require a federal park over the Flathead Valley,” said Bennett.
“A lot of it has been logged and clear cut and the point is: we still have this incredibly diverse and healthy ecosystem. So the management model we have had in place has been working extremely well and there really is no reason to change it.”