On March 10, President Obama will hold a State Dinner at the White House for Prime Minister Trudeau, the first time such an event has been held for a Canadian leader in 19 years. In an open letter issued today, conservation groups from both sides of the border are calling on the leaders to use this opportunity to discuss the protection of the Flathead River Valley in southeast British Columbia.
"Saving the Flathead is the single greatest opportunity for US-Canada conservation cooperation today, and I hope our leaders use this event to discuss how to accomplish this once and for all," said Peter Wood of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
For Trudeau, this could be a chance to follow through on Jean Chretien's 2002 intention to add this "missing piece" to the transboundary Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, created in 1932. "Americans and Canadians should be proud to have initiated the world's first international peace park," said Harvey Locke, co-founder and Strategic Advisor of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. "Protecting the 'Missing Piece' in the Flathead is one of the most obvious major conservation gains available in the world today."
For Obama, this presents an opportunity to build on protections added to the US side of the river in 2015. "We were thrilled when Congress passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act last year, which protected the US side of the Flathead from mining. We hope that this dinner could lead to a significant announcement to further transboundary conservation in the Crown of the Continent" said Dave Hadden, Headwaters Montana.
Premier Clark has confirmed the importance of this area to conservation in B.C., and has given Ministers Mary Polak (Environment) and Bill Bennett (Energy and Mines) the mandate to pursue a wildlife habitat corridor that includes the Flathead. But nothing has moved ahead.
"We are pleased that the Province of B.C. has acknowledged that this area is a vital wildlife corridor, but we must act now if we are to make sure that wildlife values are not further compromised by ongoing pressures," said John Bergenske of Wildsight. "This is one of North Americas's best opportunities to maintain healthy wildlife populations in the face of climate change."
The conservation groups have extended an invitation to the two leaders for a guided tour of the Flathead Valley.
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Peter Wood, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Harvey Locke, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
John Bergenske, Wildsight
Dave Hadden, Headwaters Montana