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Let’s Connect It and Protect It! Completing the World’s First International Peace Park

By Bob Peart

January 30, 2017

“What do you think?  Is that a small grizzly or a wolverine?”

There were five of us from the Flathead Wild team backpacking along the BC-Alberta border when we saw this animal race across a high ridge in the distance.  Our hike was taking us along the high mountain ridges overlooking the Flathead River Valley in southeastern BC.

The Flathead River Valley is in the unceded traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation. These lands and water are Ktunaxa and they form a critical part of the treaty process that is underway to clarify and define Ktunaxa title and rights.

The Southern Rocky Mountains of BC are internationally known for their abundance and diversity of wildlife; and the waters of the Flathead River remain free-flowing and exceptionally clean, clear and cold.  Endangered and sensitive species such as grizzly bear, wolverine and bull trout still thrive in this beautiful landscape.  The Flathead Valley is unmatched in North America for the variety and density of carnivores and its extraordinary diversity of plants and animals.  It remains one of the last wild river basins in southern Canada.

However, there are no legislated wildlife sanctuaries in the Southern Rockies.  With constant threats from coal mining, highway and railway expansion, logging and off-road vehicles, there is less and less space where these wild animals can roam freely and find the food and conditions they need to survive.

To this end about 10 years ago, Sierra Club BC joined with 5 other conservation groups to form Flathead Wild. We are a collaborative international effort coordinating the campaign to designate an International Wildlife Corridor all the way from the Waterton-Glacier park complex to Banff National Park, as part of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.  Our goal is to have this wildlife corridor include a Flathead National Park Reserve and a provincial wildlife management area that would be designed to work with the interests of the Ktunaxa.

Photo by Joe Riis.

Thanks to your support we have managed to get a ban on mining and energy development in the Flathead Valley, yet the region remains under threatened by development.

We need your continuing support so we can remain an active member of Flathead Wild, to support the Ktunaxa achieving their goals, and to ensure the Flathead Valley will remain a natural jewel. Please donate today.

For more information please go to the Flathead Wild website and sign our petition to complete Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Incidentally, we never did agree whether the animal we saw was a small grizzly or a wolverine.

Feature image by Joe Riis.

 

Transboundary Environmental Coalition calls for halt to new mines in Canada’s Southern Rockies

January 30, 2017

In light of recent charges brought against Teck (TSE:TECK.B) under the Fisheries Act for fish deaths resulting from the failure of their selenium treatment plant in 2014, the Flathead Wild Coalition is renewing their call for a halt to new coal mines in BC’s Elk River Valley.

Selenium levels in the Elk River watershed continue to be a serious threat to fish populations not only in Canada but also in the Koocanusa reservoir and the Kootenai River in the United States.

Despite more than three years of operations at West Line Creek, Teck’s treatment process has still not safely solved the selenium problem from that mine. Selenium-leaching waste rock dumps at all five of Teck’s Elk Valley mines continue to grow – and selenium levels in the Elk River and downstream continue to increase.

“Teck must do more to make sure selenium levels downstream of waste rock dumps are safe for fish,” said Ryland Nelson, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies Program Manager, “and we hope Environment Canada will continue their enforcement actions to push Teck to fix their water pollution problems.”

Meanwhile, expansions at four of Teck’s five open-pit coal mines in the Elk Valley have recently been approved by the BC Government and three new mines from other companies have been proposed, with more exploration ongoing.

“Without a proven, reliable selenium treatment method, increased mining in the area is unthinkable,” said Nelson, “it is time for the BC Government to stop entertaining new mines.”

Selenium levels in the Elk River currently far exceed BC’s water quality guidelines. Levels in the Koocanusa Reservoir, which spans the border, have exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency criteria.

“Excessive selenium levels, which have been found in fish tissue on both sides of the border, threaten reproduction and cause spinal and gill deformations in trout and other fish species,” said Ric Hauer, Professor of Limnology at the University of Montana. “Absent effective treatment, selenium is expected to continue leaching from waste rock dumps for generations.”

“The BC Government needs to step up and do much more to defend clean water and the world-class wildlife connectivity and habitat in the region,” said Candace Batycki, from Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, “instead of just approving more and more mining.”

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Contact:

Ryland Nelson, Wildsight, 250.531.0445

Ric Hauer, University of Montana, 406.250.9900

Candace Batycki, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 250.352.3830

BACKGROUNDER:

The Elk River Valley, and the adjacent Flathead River Valley in the Southeastern corner of
British Columbia, are part of a critical connectivity corridor for wildlife along the Rocky
Mountains that spans across the national border. Large open-pit coal mines and
unsustainable logging practices threaten not just water, fish and other aquatic species, but
connectivity and habitat for grizzly bears and other mammals. The Elk and Flathead valleys
are an important part of the larger Crown of the Continent region that includes the
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Flathead Wild is a coalition of six Canadian and U.S. conservation groups: Canadian Parks
and Wilderness Society – BC Chapter, Headwaters Montana, National Parks Conservation
Association, Sierra Club BC, Wildsight, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
The groups are working to permanently protect B.C.’s Flathead valley, long recognized as
the missing piece of the adjacent Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and World
Heritage Site. They are calling for a national park feasibility study in the southeastern
one-third of the Flathead, and a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the valley and
adjoining habitat.

For more information visit www.flathead.ca

Feature Image by Michael Ready

The Obama-Trudeau Dinner: Putting Conservation on the Menu

On March 10, President Obama will hold a State Dinner at the White House for Prime Minister Trudeau, the first time such an event has been held for a Canadian leader in 19 years. In an open letter issued today, conservation groups from both sides of the border are calling on the leaders to use this opportunity to discuss the protection of the Flathead River Valley in southeast British Columbia.

“Saving the Flathead is the single greatest opportunity for US-Canada conservation cooperation today, and I hope our leaders use this event to discuss how to accomplish this once and for all,” said Peter Wood of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

For Trudeau, this could be a chance to follow through on Jean Chretien’s 2002 intention to add this “missing piece” to the transboundary Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, created in 1932. “Americans and Canadians should be proud to have initiated the world’s first international peace park,” said Harvey Locke, co-founder and Strategic Advisor of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Protecting the ‘Missing Piece’ in the Flathead is one of the most obvious major conservation gains available in the world today.”

For Obama, this presents an opportunity to build on protections added to the US side of the river in 2015. “We were thrilled when Congress passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act last year, which protected the US side of the Flathead from mining. We hope that this dinner could lead to a significant announcement to further transboundary conservation in the Crown of the Continent,” said Dave Hadden of Headwaters Montana.

Premier Clark has confirmed the importance of this area to conservation in B.C., and has given Ministers Mary Polak (Environment) and Bill Bennett (Energy and Mines) the mandate to pursue a wildlife habitat corridor that includes the Flathead. But nothing has moved ahead.

“We are pleased that the Province of B.C. has acknowledged that this area is a vital wildlife corridor, but we must act now if we are to make sure that wildlife values are not further compromised by ongoing pressures,” said John Bergenske of Wildsight. “This is one of North America’s best opportunities to maintain healthy wildlife populations in the face of climate change.”

The conservation groups have extended an invitation to the two leaders for a guided tour of the Flathead Valley.

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Connectivity and Conservation in B.C.

Connectivity & conservation have reached a pivotal moment in British Columbia. Wilderness landscapes face increasing pressure from climate change, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and encroachment of industrial activities.

Join leaders in the conservation movement Harvey Locke & Jens Wieting as they talk about biodiversity and the importance of connecting wildlife corridors across B.C.

Internationally-renowned conservationist Harvey Locke will speak about B.C.’s Flathead River Valley and the role it plays in biodiversity and connecting the Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridor.

Sierra Club BC’s Jens Wieting will speak about coastal connectivity from the Great Bear Rainforest to Vancouver Island, and conserving forests as one of our best climate solutions.

Our conservation work takes place on the territories of many First Nations. We aim to engage with these Nations hereditary and elected governance as best we can, and honour their authority over their territories

Tuesday November 17th
7:00pm
University of Victoria David Turpin Building
Room A110
Lekwungen Territories

RSVP HERE

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Keeping wilderness connected in the Southern Rockies

by

When we talk about the campaign to protect the Flathead, it’s sometimes assumed that the work we’re doing is only within the valley itself. It’s a fair assumption to make because, after all, the campaign is named after it. In actuality, the work we’re doing to designate a portion of the Flathead as a national park is only one component of a much bigger conservation vision for B.C.’s southern Rockies.boltonhike

Equally as important as the national park, but talked about much less, is the “Connect it” part of the campaign – the proposed Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that would stretch from Glacier National Park in Montana all the way up to the Rocky Mountain parks through both the Flathead and Elk Valleys. Although a WMA offers less protection than a park, conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats is given priority, while other compatible land uses may be accommodated.

The proposed WMA for the unprotected lands in the Flathead and the Elk Valleys has been an integral part of the Flathead Wild campaign since it began. A WMA is one way for us to ensure wildlife can get from one place to another in a region that’s scattered with obstacles to safe passage. Without it, the various protected areas could become isolated islands in a hostile sea of development, incapable of maintaining viable wildlife populations.

Within the proposed WMA corridor, the ‘wildness’ of the landscape changes enormously from one place to another. There are coal mines, towns, forestry operations, ski hills, highways – it’s a very active place, with lots of roads. But, nestled into this fragmented landscape, there are pockets of incredible untouched wilderness that make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time, and bring you far away from the constant noise and motion of city life.

aldridge_fromboltonI’ve been lucky enough to experience some of these places in the Elk Valley. Last year, as part of a whirlwind tour around southern B.C. when I first moved out here from Ontario, I spent a week with the Flathead Wild team in a place called the Hornaday Wilderness, which is one of three areas within the WMA that have been identified as candidate Wilderness Areas. This year, again with the Flathead Wild team, I spent a few days exploring another one of these areas, the proposed Weary/Aldridge Wilderness Area in the northern end of the proposed WMA.

The trail we hiked, called the Aldridge Creek Trail, is part of a huge, informal network of trails that together make up what’s called the Great Divide Trail, which runs 1,200 kilometres from Waterton National Park all the way up to Kakwa Provincial Park in B.C. Our section of the trail had recently undergone a miraculous transformation, done by the good folks at the Great Divide Trail Association and the Hornaday Wilderness Association, so we didn’t have to fight our way through overgrown Alder or attempt stream crossings through unmarked portions of the trail that got washed out in the big floods of 2013. The hike and the landscape were spectacular. There are no roads in the entire drainage basin, no cutblocks, no motorized trails – very little to indicate anyone had ever been there.

A map of the Aldridge Creek drainage basin, and the Great Divide Trail. Photo: Peter Wood

A map of the Aldridge Creek drainage basin, and the Great Divide Trail. Photo: Peter Wood

One of my big takeaways from this year’s trip was about more than just keeping wild places like Aldridge Creek intact – it was realizing that boundary lines drawn on a map don’t translate well to real lines on the ground. In the picture below, for example, everything behind me is part of the same ecosystem but the basin on the left is in B.C. and to the right is in Alberta – subject to different laws and regulations but still part of the same connected landscape. But where are the warning signs for grizzly bears, telling them they’re protected on one side but not the other?

In places like this, with no roads and virtually no human presence, wildlife is able to move around unimpeded and so they do. The trouble is, outside of wilderness areas and protected areas, there can be lot stopping wildlife from getting from point A to point B, so they become more and more limited in where they can go to get food, to find mates, and to raise their young. Without protected or specially managed lands in between these areas, wildlife populations become isolated and will invariably start to decline.

Some of the Flathead Wild team, after making it to the top of Mount Bolton

Some of the Flathead Wild team, after making it to the top of Mount Bolton

And this is the challenge we face in and around the Flathead. We’ve got this patchwork of industrialized areas and then world-class protected areas throughout the region, with space still left around these areas for wildlife movement but no legal framework to guarantee that these spaces will be kept safe.

With Alberta recently upping the ante with more protection on their side of the border, it’s more important than ever for us to step it up on our side of the border. The good news is that the B.C. government has just this year started looking at ways to ensure connectivity through the region. But, to really hit it out of the park, we need all the puzzle pieces in place – the WMA and the ‘missing piece’ of Waterton-Glacier.

Jessie Corey is the Terrestrial Campaigns Coordinator for CPAWS-BC and works as part of the Flathead Wild team. This blog originally appeared on Flathead Wild. Read the original post here.

Read more about Sierra Club BC’s work to protect the Flathead.

The progression of new protected area designations in the Southern Rockies – only a small portion of the Flathead’s Canadian half has been protected, in Akamina-Kishenina Provincial Park.

The progression of new protected area designations in the Southern Rockies – only a small portion of the Flathead’s Canadian half has been protected, in Akamina-Kishenina Provincial Park.

 

 

Karst: The Winter Chalet for B.C. Bats

As the winter chill sets in, bats all over BC are curling up in furry little clusters. We’re beginning to learn more about their winter hideaways.

As winter approaches, bats seek refuge in karst cave systems. Due to its high humidity, constant, cool temperatures (3 – 4 °C) and dark conditions, karst is an ideal habitat for bat hibernation. As karst landscapes cover approximately 14% of the earth’s surface, researchers all over the world are studying the significance of karst to the viability (well-being) of this species.

With 16 unique species of bats, British Columbia boasts the greatest biodiversity of bats in Canada. These furry, winged creatures play an essential ecological role as pollinators, seed dispersers, and insect regulators (a single little brown myotis can catch up to approximately 600 pesky mosquitoes in an hour!). Guano, or bat waste, is rich in nutrients, contributing to the fertility of the soil and it supports insects, fungi, bacteria, and lichens.

In the summer, bats require suitable roosting and maternity sites (places where females congregate to give birth and raise their baby bats, known as pups) that are in proximity to foraging grounds. This includes trees, crevices in rocks, buildings and bat houses alongside or close to freshwater and forest edges.

According to Doreen Parker, a bat specialist in Alaska, “Some of the characteristics of the old growth [forest] are very important to bats – the diverse canopy structure, the [ancient] trees with the loose bark falling away from the tree trunk, there’s snags, decaying trees, trees with cavities and old woodpecker holes for them to roost in.”

Clear-cut forests and open fields have been found to be unsuitable for bats, as they do not provide essential roosting habitat.

Hoary bat
Rare find of the Hoary Bat, the largest in Canada. Photo: Mark Worthing
A study conducted in Alaska on the impacts of timber harvesting on bat activity in South Eastern Alaska found that riparian (vegetation along the river edges) areas and old-growth forests have the greatest abundance of bats. Forests underlain by karst are typically higher in productivity in comparison to non-karst forests, and are marked by an abundance and great diversity of karst caves. It is likely that karst forests are vital bat habitat as they provide foraging, roosting and hibernation sites.

In Malaysia, studies have been conducted by conservation biologists from Queen Mary University that confirm the importance of limestone karst outcrops for the biodiversity of cave-dwelling tropical bats and tropical bats living in forest fragments.

Bats have become a conservation priority in BC, following a public plea made by Environment Minister, Mary Polak last June, requesting that emphasis be placed on identifying bat habitat and determining their population abundances as “there is surprisingly little known about local bat species and their numbers.”

Six American and Canadian conservation groups, including Sierra Club BC, took initiative and collaboratively organized a Bat BioBlitz. The bat inventory involved 10 bat biologists, and seven citizen scientists and was led by Dr. Cori Lausen, a prominent Canadian bat researcher. Over the four nights, eight sites were inventoried, resulting in 31 bats being caught and 1049 bat passes being detected, using mistnetting and acoustic sampling techniques. Of the 11 bat species suspected to inhabit the richly biodiverse area, seven species were detected, including the endangered little brown myotis.

Bat 2
After being warmed up this bat is ready for release. Photo: Mark Worthing

This research was published just as the CBC reported this week that Eastern Canadian bat populations have been devastated by the white-nose syndrome. The fungal disease, which spread to Canada in 2010, impacts hibernating bats. Fuzzy white growths appear on the affected bat’s muzzle and wings, causing the animal to behave erratically and use up its precious fat reserves. White-nose syndrome has led the functional extirpation (a few bats may remain, but they are unable to repopulate the ecosystem) of the little brown myotis, northern myotis and tri-coloured bat, according to Graham Forbes, a bat species specialist subcommittee member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and biologist at the University of New Brunswick. The disease has yet to reach Manitoba, but is reported to be spreading west at an average rate of 200 – 250 km per year. Forbes stated he would be “surprised” if western bat populations aren’t eventually impacted by this deadly disease.

The only way to mitigate impact and protect BC bats is to locate their hibernation sites in karst landscapes. As of current, large bat hibernacula have not been identified in the province, and this will be the focus of future surveys in the Flathead River Valley.  According to Cori Lausen, “Through collaborations with cavers we have only just begun to search for bat hibernacula here. It’s imperative that we continue the search in the Flathead for bat hibernacula since large clusters of bats may be present but undiscovered.” Caving groups, such as the Alberta Speleological Society and the British Columbia Caving Federation have been exploring alpine (mountainous) karst in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains since 1997 and have conducted preliminary cave surveys and reports, which can be found in the Canadian Caver Magazine, and newsletters produced by the two caving groups.

Although there currently is no cure for the disease, researchers in the United States are researching potential vaccines and bacteria with antifungal properties to save the bat from extinction in North America.

The Flathead Wild team is active in the movement to protect this unique environment. For more information on how to get involved and become a Friend of the Flathead, check out the campaign website.