A United Nations report lauding the natural virtues of the Flathead River Valley has given environmentalists and wilderness advocates a big boost in their quest to have the scenic, southeast corner of B.C. set aside as a national park.
Although the valley is adjacent to the long-designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta and Montana, B.C. continues to resist turning the pristine region over to National Parks Canada.
Bill Bennett, the province's Mining Minister, recently added fuel to the controversy by lashing out at park proponents as "urban-based enviros" and "eco-fascists."
Mr. Bennett, local MLA for the area, subsequently apologized for the references, contained in an e-mail sent out to constituency supporters.
In a report released Monday at a UNESCO's World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil, the UN organization called the uninhabited Flathead watershed "one of the last of America's remaining wild rivers and of global ecological significance."
While stopping short of endorsing the call for a national park, the report said the Flathead region should be regulated by a single conservation and management plan, including those sections in Alberta and Montana.
"This is one of the [continent's]largest, most pristine, intact and best-protected expanses of natural terrain," the report said.
Along with the Waterton and Glacier parks, the valley forms a critical wildlife corridor for a variety of species unmatched in North America, home to the endangered bull trout, the wolverine, the lynx and the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the U.S. and Canada.
After concerted opposition from the State of Montana, the B.C. government issued a cabinet order earlier this year that banned mining in the wilderness area, squelching a long-proposed coal mine.
Hunting, forestry and other industries, however, go on.
"This report is a big international nudge for the government to do more," said Sarah Cox, B.C. spokeswoman for the Sierra Club.
"It's time for British Columbia to step up and permanently protect our part of this remarkable ecosystem that Alberta and Montana have recognized for a long time."
Ms. Cox noted that a timber company is currently preparing to carry out clear-cut logging in the Flathead area, while another business is set to quarry 20,000 tons of rock.
"This report says that not nearly enough is being done to protect wildlife in the region."
Casey Brennan, Southern Rockies Program Manager for the locally based conservation group, Wildsight, echoed these sentiments.
"The report reaffirms what we already knew, that the Flathead's remarkable diversity of wildlife needs increased protection."
In a statement, Naomi Yamamoto, B.C.'s Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations, said she had not yet seen the UNESCO report, and would not comment until it has been discussed by the World Heritage Committee.
Her statement added that B.C. has taken steps to ensure that all activity in the Flathead take place in a manner consistent with protecting the "environmental values of the watershed."
Read the UN report