Flathead Beacon – December 19, 2014
President Barack Obama on Friday officially signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains a massive lands package that adds new wilderness in Montana for the first time in 31 years and furnishes permanent protection from energy development on the North Fork of the Flathead River.
The collection of 70 national public land management bills is the largest since the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, and the state’s entire Congressional delegation worked to attach eight Montana bills.
They include the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which bans future mining and drilling on 383,267 acres in the North Fork, an area that tracks along the western edge of Glacier National Park, and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, designates 208,000 acres nearby as a conservation management area, and releases 14,000 acres of wilderness study areas for a new assessment of the potential for oil and gas extraction. It also allows the reassessment of 15,000 additional acres of wilderness study areas.
Conservation groups in British Columbia hailed the passage of the North Fork bill as a milestone for the two countries.
“Passing this legislation represents a truly significant accomplishment for the BC–Montana relationship, and for the health of our shared Waterton-Glacier Peace Park region,” said John Bergenske, conservation director of B.C. environmental group Wildsight. “It was vitally important for the U.S. government to pass this legislation to balance similar legislation passed in BC in 2011 that banned mining and energy development in the transnational Flathead watershed.”
“The Flathead is the last unsettled river valley in all of Canada,” said Peter Wood, terrestrial campaigns director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – BC Chapter. “In the U.S., it’s widely regarded as the wildest valley remaining in the Lower 48. It has an immense value to people in both countries, and we sincerely commend the political leadership of both Montana and B.C. for acting on the wishes of their citizens, and honoring the transboundary agreement.”