Some of our best-known and most-cherished national and provincial parks are set in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana. In the midst of international acclaim for these spectacular places, however, the area between them has been largely overlooked.
This landscape is situated within Ktunaxa ?amak?is, the unceded and non-treaty territory of the Ktunaxa Nation on the north side of the 49th parallel, and the territories of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe of Montana on the south side.
Also known as the Southern Canadian Rockies, this rugged, beautiful landscape is a stronghold for vulnerable species: grizzly bears and wolverines, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.
THE FLATHEAD RIVER VALLEY
The Flathead River Valley is one of the most biologically important places on the planet. The valley is home to an undammed free-flowing river with exceptional water quality. It is unmatched in North America for the variety and density of carnivore species, such as grizzly bears, that live and breed there. As rich in biodiversity as the Okavango Delta or the Serengeti, the Flathead is a mixing zone for plant species from north, south, east and west and is noted for its brilliant wildflowers. The Flathead is a key link for animals moving north and south through the Rocky Mountains, from Montana's Glacier National Park to Canada's Rocky Mountain parks like Banff and Jasper. It is a magical place of great wildness that has no permanent residents.
Despite the ban on Flathead mining and energy development announced by the B.C. government in February 2010, the Flathead is still urgently in need of permanent protection. The cumulative impacts of unsustainable logging practices, trophy hunting of grizzlies and other animals, increased road access, and quarrying still threaten the Flathead and its remarkable wildlife and water quality.
THE ELK VALLEY
Just to the north of the Flathead lies the Elk Valley with the growing communities of Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford, five open pit coal mines, a major highway, and a rail line.
Despite the degree of development in the Elk Valley, it remains a critical link for wildlife connectivity in the Rocky Mountains and in the greater Crown of the Continent ecosystem. While the east side of the valley is severely compromised by Canada’s largest coal mines, the west side and upper valley continue to support healthy wildlife populations whose habitat must be protected. Water pollution from the coal mines threatens bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, amphibians, and birds in the Elk River and into the Kootenai River in the US.
The current land use plan for the Elk Valley is unbalanced and prioritizes mining over all other values, threatening wildlife connectivity on a continental scale.
THE WIGWAM VALLEY
The Wigwam River is a tributary of the Elk River, with its headwaters in Montana. Notably, water from the origin of the Wigwam River flows across the Canada-U.S. border four different times: once in the Wigwam, twice in the Kootenay River, and once in the Columbia River.
This isolated, remote river valley is known for its clear water that flows over vibrantly-coloured rocks and for its abundant spawning habitat for important fish species like the at-risk bull trout. Without any protection, and given the current lack of enforcement of motorized access restrictions, the Wigwam is at risk of losing its wilderness character and the aquatic and terrestrial wildlife it supports.
THE BULL AND WHITE RIVER VALLEYS
These drainages are an important part of the wildlife corridor but are already heavily impacted by forest practices and roads. Land use management must change in order to maintain critical habitat areas and connectivity.