Bill to protect Flathead River passes House of Representatives

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Contact: Chris Schustrom, Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, 406-260-1198

Bill to protect Flathead River passes House of Representatives

Washington D.C. The North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 2259), a bill aimed at protecting well known public lands west of Glacier National Park was approved by the US House of Representatives on Tuesday.

At issue is the potential for future mineral leasing and development, which could diminish the value for hunters and anglers who frequent the area, as well as visitors to Glacier National Park.

In a state with many exceptional trout rivers, the North Fork of the Flathead is among the most pristine, said Chris Schustrom of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. It is an international treasure and the passage of this bill in the House marks an important milestone for keeping the North Fork clean and clear now and for future generations.

A companion bill in the Senate passed the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in 2013 and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

The bill has seen wide support from diverse interests, including sportsmens groups, businesses, local government, environmental groups and the oil and gas industry. It is also supported by Montanas bi-partisan congressional delegation.

Sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Daines, the bill would withdraw 362,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest from future oil and gas leasing and development, hard-rock minerals development and geothermal development. The withdrawal area borders Glacier National Park and the region is home to native bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, and healthy wildlife populations. In addition to fishing, these public lands support quality hunting for deer, elk, moose and other big game.

The legislation would also satisfy a 2010 agreement between Montana and British Columbia whereby both governments agreed to protect their portions of the North Fork watershed from mineral development. British Columbia has already taken steps to ensure conservation of the areas within its boundaries.

Since leases were first issued in the 1980s, oil and gas development on Forest Service lands in the North Fork has been a concern, Schustrom said. Theres still work left to be done in the Senate, but today we are one step closer to finally achieving the protection that the North Fork deserves.