Flathead River Valley open for coal mining despite ban
Federal coal block in Flathead not included in B.C. mining ban
B.C.’s Flathead River Valley is still open to mountain top removal coal mining and coal bed methane development because a federal coal block is not included in a provincial ban on energy and mining development, conservation groups warned today.
“The Flathead is not protected from open pit coal mining after all,” said Wildsight Executive Director John Bergenske. “We’re calling on the federal government to make an immediate public commitment to join the ban on Flathead mining and energy development.”
The B.C. mining ban, legislated one year ago in November 2011, has no legal coverage over 6,290 hectares of federally-owned Dominion Coal Blocks in the headwaters of the Flathead River Valley, which are being considered for development.
“The news is even more alarming because these coal blocks stretch across a globally-significant wildlife corridor that the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee called on B.C. to conserve,” said Sierra Club BC spokesperson Sarah Cox. “In addition to the new coal mining threat, the Flathead is slated for intensive logging which has already begun. Contrary to statements by the B.C. government, the Flathead is not permanently protected.”
The Flathead coal block forms a significant part of the larger of two Dominion Coal Block parcels in the East Kootenay, which total 20,235 hectares. The coal blocks were transferred to the federal government more than a century ago in exchange for the completion of the national railway in B.C.
Natural Resources Canada has posted new maps showing the coal bed methane potential of these lands, indicating that interest in their resource potential is active and current.
“We’ve written to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver to request a meeting and to ask the federal government to join B.C. in banning open pit coal mining and oil and gas development from the Flathead,” said Chloe O’Loughlin, Director of Terrestrial Conservation for CPAWS-BC. “This should happen immediately by order in council and be followed by legislation, as was done in B.C.”
B.C.’s Flathead has some of the purest water in the world and is home to rare and at-risk species, including the wolverine, grizzly bear, tailed frog and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
Wildsight, Sierra Club BC, CPAWS-BC and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative are urging the B.C. government to agree to a National Park in the southeastern one-third of the Flathead, to fill in the missing piece of the adjacent Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a World Heritage Site and two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The groups are also calling for a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the Flathead and adjoining habitat.