Citizens still trying to assess the implications of the mining ban Memorandum of Understanding signed between Montana’s governor and British Columbia’s Premier last week, should be looking at statements of former Glacier National Park Superintendent, David Mihalic. 

One cannot help but recall that it was at the urging of Mihalic that Glacier was nominated as a World Heritage site and biosphere reserve.  When he declares that: “while there are protected areas in the Akimina-Kisheneena of British Columbia west of Waterton Lakes, and U.S. Forest Service wilderness areas, and wild and scenic rivers bordering Glacier it hasnot been enough “protection” to keep the resource exploitation proposals around Glacier and Waterton Lake from rearing their heads again and again,” we should be asking: What does he consider adequate protection?

When Mihalic alludes to looking to “a new management regime” for the Crown of the Continent we need to question the basis for doing so.  Is it because of allegations made by the Crown Partners’ activist organization tapped by Governor Schweitzer to act in an advisory capacity to his administration?  Do Montanans truly believe as the Partners allege that: current management has resulted in “increasing fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitat, decreased quality of wilderness-oriented recreational experiences, degradation of important ecological goods and services such as clean air and clean water, uncertainty and frustration for both industrial and protection efforts, and increasingly unhealthy local communities,” Where is any scientific substantiation for making those statements?

The Montana Legislature in 2005 passed a resolution urging the Governor to negotiate an operating agreement with the Premier of British Columbia, that implements in a meaningful and measurable manner the 2003 environmental cooperation arrangement to resolve trans-boundary issues. It further urged that the International Joint Commission conduct a comprehensive environmental assessment of the impacts of developing hydrocarbon resources on the transboundary resources and waters of the valley of the north fork of the Flathead River and critical adjacent environs, prior to a final decision on whether to approve hydrocarbon development and in particular coal mines and coal bed methane in these transboundary areas.  That was never done.  Nor has the Governor ever reported on any work in progress to the legislature.

Instead, Senators Baucus and Tester, scoring big with the preservationist crowd requested of the U.S. State Department an endangered status for Glacier and Waterton Parks.  Heedless of what occurred when the State Department previously invited a United Nations Committee to visit and evaluate conditions in Yellowstone National Park; the senators have again set us up for UN involvement in Montana’s domestic affairs.  That has resulted in aU.N. Committee visit not only to the Flathead, but on-going investigation of water quality in the Elk River Drainage feeding in to the Kootenai River.

When pressure from the environmental community first effectively stopped mining in British Columbia, a Flathead Coalition activist was heard to state that we on our side of the border shouldn’t expect our northern neighbor to make all the sacrifices, we in the states should be willing to do the same to further shared goals.  So what are we talking about here? The governor has already committed us to shared goals, now the public needs to knowmwhat those goals are.

Preservationists have long sought westward expansion of Waterton/Glacier National Parks. Does the “new management regime” envisioned by Mr. Mihalic extend to wilderness designation of millions of acres of  buffer zone to protect the core values of the two parks as did UNESCO’s recommendations relative to Yellowstone?

Fortunately, then Senator Burns was able to halt that move which was intended to lock up millions of acres of private and public lands. 

When Mr. Mihalic exclaims “North Fork preservation:  this is just the beginning,” does his “beginning” include plans to designate as wilderness the 171,000 acres largely in Lincoln County long targeted by the Montana Wilderness Association?  That area already called by them the Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness, is included in the current Forest Service Galton study area and includes over 42,000 acres of private land, much of which years ago had been granted to homesteaders.  Would that be considered “sacrifice” and protection enough, or does the overall plan relate to the accelerated focus on water quality monitoring activities in the Elk River Valley? Again allegations are rampant, but where is the true science?”

At risk in the Elk River drainage are approximately 2600 jobs and a healthy economy which spills into Montana.  In Lincoln County mining permit applications are still in limbo as Montana DEQ and DNRC continue to require more and more assessments and duplication of efforts.  Are the economic benefits from these mines also on the sacrificial block? Why are the governor’s appointees still dragging their feet?

The bottom line is that the governor has made serious commitments on behalf of all Montanans.  He neither consulted the legislature nor conducted  public hearings before making these commitments, some of which may ultimately cost millions of dollars and still unidentified “sacrifices” of multiple uses of our resources. Of deep concern should be his acquiescence that “climate change is having and will have severe environmental and economic impacts on our shared waters, ecosystems, protected areas and jurisdictions in coming decades, and agreed therefore that action now is a moral and economic imperative.” 

An imperative now?

Given the track record of the U.N. scientific community relative to climate change findings and factors alleged to be contributing to global warming, Montanans should be demanding that the Legislature initiate in-depth examination of any proposed energy related policy changes which may be thrust upon us by statements in the MOU. Before requiring sacrifice of Montanans we should wait until claimed scientific findings are validated by true science.

Trans-boundary cooperation truly serves our citizens’ interests and those of our good neighbors to the North but when third party global activists become involved, stakeholders on both sides of the border become net losers, as they are subjected to the whims of those who disdain the heritage, customs and culture of both Canada and the U. S. in their pursuit of optimum ecosystem management and biodiversity goals.

Obligating Montana to specific courses of action should be the prerogative of the legislature, not of one man temporarily occupying the governor’s office.

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Montana State Senator Aubyn Curtiss from Fortine, represents Northwestern Montana’s Senate District 1.  She has served in 8 sessions in the Montana House since 1977, and just completed her fourth session in the State Senate, where she was a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

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