B.C.'s Flathead River Valley should be protected: UN
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 26, 2010 3:39PM PDT
A pristine swath of wilderness in southeastern B.C. needs ecological protection matching that of a neighbouring world heritage site, says a new report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Flathead River Basin, situated adjacent to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, is part of the same ecosystem but is largely unprotected by the province.
The basin should join counterpart jurisdictions in Alberta and Montana under a single "conservation and wildlife management plan," according to the report to be released by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee during its annual meeting later this week in Brazil.
The Flathead watershed holds the highest concentration of inland grizzly bears in North America and is its last intact corridor along the border, along with the wolf and Canadian lynx. Water rating among the purest in the world runs through it and is home to several endangered species of fish.
"Remote, uninhabited and pristine, it is regarded as one of the last of America's remaining wild rivers and of global ecological significance," says the report, titled "Report of the Reactive Monitoring Mission."
Conservation groups, who obtained a copy of the report before it was formally released, argue the document boosts their call for the region to be designated as a national park.
"It's a no-brainer," said Chloe O'Loughlin, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
"The province should just step up to the plate and it would bring economic benefits to British Columbia and protect this area that is so important to the world."
A report commissioned by the society found a park designation would increase entrepreneurial activity, bring new capital investments, create ongoing spending by Parks Canada and increase visitation. Annual net economic benefits would bump the provincial GDP by $1.44 million, it says.
More than 70 per cent of area residents supported the concept of a national park, according to a telephone poll conducted of 910 people in 2008 by McAllister Opinion Research.
In February, B.C. and Montana signed a memorandum of understanding banning mining and oil and gas development in the basin as permissible land uses.
O'Loughlin, along with members of ten other conservation groups including Sierra Club BC, contend the memorandum of understanding is a good first step, but doesn't go far enough.
"There is more needed here, we need to do more work, we need to do a better job for this world class wildlife and wilderness area," said Casey Brennan, a spokesman for Wildsight.
The province and Ottawa must work together to adhere to the report recommendations, Brennan said, adding it's not UNESCO's place to prescribe political solutions to environmental issues.
B.C. Intergovernmental Relations Minister Naomi Yamamoto said she won't comment on the report until it's officially discussed by the World Heritage Committee later this week.
"(The February agreement) ensures that the environmental values in the Flathead River Basin are sustained in a manner consistent with current forestry, recreation, guide outfitting and trapping uses," she said in an emailed statement. "This measure provides the certainty required to protect the environmental values of the Flathead watershed."
Calls to Parks Canada were not returned.
The report also recommends completely prohibiting mining and energy development throughout the watershed, that governments minimize barriers to roaming wildlife, greater cross-border co-operation and close consultation with indigenous peoples.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said his party supports the report's findings.
"Is B.C. going to negotiate in good faith?" he asked, raising an email sent under Energy Minister Bill Bennett's name earlier this month calling people who want to turn the basin into a park "eco fascists."
Bennett later apologized, saying the note was sent by a new and junior employee.
UNESCO commissioned the 50-page report at the urging of the conservationists, carrying out an eight-day mission by vehicle, helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft in September 2009.
UNESCO will also review a joint Canada-U.S. report on the status of the world heritage site itself later this week.