Montana, North Fork of the Flathead River

State: Montana
Region: Whitefish, Montana

In December 2014, Congress passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act to safeguard the North Fork Flathead River Valley (headwaters to Glacier Park and Flathead Lake). The legislation furnishes permanent protections on the U.S. side of the North Fork watershed and precludes new oil and gas development and mining. The North Fork Watershed Protection Act does not impede timber production, hunting or fishing, and has garnered broad support from hunters and anglers, cities and counties, the Montana timber industry, Chambers of Commerce, the region’s largest employers, and even the giants of America’s energy sector such as Conoco Phillips and Chevron.

Glacier Park is part of a large preserved ecosystem known as the "Crown of the Continent", which is primarily untouched pristine wildlife habitat. Virtually all the plants and animals which existed at the time European explorers first entered the region are present in the park today. Upstream of Waterton-Glacier Peace Park on its north western border, lays Canada's Flathead River Valley, a 330,000-acre area in S.E. British Columbia that provides critical habitat for wildlife movement out of Glacier National Park.

As landscapes are altered due to climate change, wildlife populations must be able to shift their existing ranges and migration routes. Wildlife corridors are critical to this adaptation. The Flathead has the highest density of grizzly bears found anywhere in North America and teems with many species that are threatened elsewhere, including lynx, badgers, fishers, wolverines and bull trout. Water in the Flathead River is so pure that scientists use it as a benchmark by which to measure water quality in rivers around the world. The Crown of the Continent is one of the most intact, diverse and connected ecosystems in the temperate zones of the world. This connectivity means that large mammal populations are more resilient to changing environmental conditions because they have more habitat and genetic diversity to draw on in times of stress.

The North Fork Watershed Protection Act has roots that reach back nearly 40 years, when the first Canadian coal mining proposals sought to tear down peaks in Glacier National Park’s headwaters. In 2010, Montana reached an historic accord with British Columbia’s leadership, pledging to together protect the wild and scenic region. The following year, Canadian lawmakers upheld their portion of the agreement by safeguarding lands north of the border. Former Montana Senator Max Baucus introduced similar legislation for the U.S. Congress, but was named ambassador to China before it was implemented. His bill, since adopted by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont), Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont), and Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont) will limit future leasing on federal North Fork lands.

Wild Lands