North Fork protection bill clears House panel

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A bill aimed at protecting national forest lands west of Glacier National Park cleared a key House Committee Tuesday, drawing praise from local supporters.

Known as the North Fork Watershed Protection Act and sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the bill would withdraw 362,000 acres of public lands from future oil and gas leasing and development, hard-rock mining and geothermal development.

Similar legislation sponsored by Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester has been advancing in the Senate.

“The North Fork bill is a great example of people of all walks of alife coming together and developing local solutions for public lands issues,” said Chris Schustrom of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “This bill will help ensure that traditional land uses and fish and wildlife habitat in the valley are protected in perpetuity.”

“Rep. Daines absolutely recognizes the important role of Glacier National Park and the North Fork in our regional economy,” said Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “By introducing this legislation and working toward its passage, the congressman has proved his commitment to championing local solutions to land-use issues. Now it’s up to Congress as a whole to protect this iconic place for those who live and visit here.”

One major purpose behind the legislation is to reciprocate with the British Columbia provincial government for similar conservation measures in the Canadian North Fork. Montana and the B.C. government entered an agreement in 2010 to protect the watershed from mineral development.

“We share this river with Canada and mineral development in the North Fork has been a transboundary concern for decades,” Schustrom said. “Thanks to the support of Rep. Daines and Sens. Tester and Baucus, Montanans are one step closer to seeing this initiative through.”

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