Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer in a ceremony at the Canadian Embassy celebrating an agreement to protect the transboundary Flathead River Basin. The agreement reached today by British Columbia and The Nature Conservancy-U.S. and The Nature Conservancy Canada will protect the Canadian portion of the Flathead River Basin from oil, gas and minerals development.
"Our conservation challenges don't stop at the border so it is important that our nations join together to protect our world's natural resources and treasures, including the Flathead River Basin with its pristine lakes and alpine scenery," said Secretary Salazar. "Completion of the agreement to protect the Basin from mining and energy development is not only an historic event, but also a wonderful celebration for the many people who are dedicated to coordinated, sustainable protection of this important watershed."
To support the international conservation efforts, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell announced that he will introduce legislation to permanently ban oil, gas and minerals development in the Canadian Flathead basin.
Also joining the celebration were Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana; Mark Tercek, President and CEO, The Nature Conservancy; and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rhea Suh, whom Salazar credited with leading Interior's "productive dialogue for months with our counterparts regarding cooperation on shared conservation priorities."
The Flathead River Basin borders the world's first peace park - Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park - and is known for having some of the highest water quality in our nation. The region serves as critical habitat for many fish and wildlife, including endangered species like the bull trout and grizzly bear.
In February 2010, Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Premier Campbell that committed to environmental protection in the Basin. As part of their commitment, British Columbia has already taken significant measures toward eliminating oil, gas, coal, and minerals development on provincial lands in the Basin, and the State of Montana has withdrawn mineral leasing on all State lands in the Basin. Senators Baucus and Tester have also undertaken significant efforts to successfully negotiate with U.S. companies to relinquish their leases on 200,000 acres of federal lands and have introduced the North Fork Protection Act to ban future leasing on federal lands.
In June 2010, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to cooperate on sustainable protections in the Flathead Basin. Since then, the U.S. Department of State and the Canadian Embassy have conducted extensive diplomatic outreach over the past eight months to bring together Federal, provincial, and state government stakeholders to identify common interests and steps toward protection in the Flathead River Basin.
The Department of the Interior will continue to coordinate with its partners to advance permanent, sustainable protections in the Flathead watershed, including the State of Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, British Columbia, the Ktunaxa First Nation, and Environment Canada - including Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service - through the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This framework will be used for further engagement in the months ahead, including to conduct joint activities on fish and wildlife conservation, invasive species and pests, climate change adaptation, and environmental data collection and information sharing.