Daines aims to protect North Fork

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U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced Friday that he will pursue a bill to protect the North Fork Flathead watershed, a move that will match legislation backed by Montana’s two Democratic senators.

Daines made the announcement at the Belton Chalet in West Glacier with Flathead Valley community leaders.

“As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know the importance of our state’s rivers and mountains to Montanans’ outdoors heritage — because they’re part of my way of life, too,” he said. “The North Fork watershed is of critical value to our state’s outdoors heritage and the tourism economy in the Flathead Valley, and it’s important that we work together to protect this valuable resource.”

Daines plans to introduce legislation similar to the North Fork Protection Act backed by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

The act would place 400,000 acres of Flathead National Forest lands adjacent to Glacier National Park off limits to hard-rock mining, coal mining, and oil and gas “fracking.”

The measure is intended to reciprocate British Columbia’s policy banning mining and oil and gas development in the North Fork drainage north of the border. It has the backing of six major energy companies and strong local support, and it has no cost to taxpayers.

Dave Hadden, a spokesman for the Headwaters Montana conservation group, said it is remarkable having a bipartisan public lands effort from Montana’s congressional delegation.

“It’s the first time in a long time that the Montana congressional delegation is working together on public lands legislation,” he said. “To me, it’s needed. I think Daines spoke really eloquently about what public lands represent to Montanans.”

Baucus and Tester issued statements supporting Daines’ efforts.

“Working together to protect places like the North Fork is good policy and good business,” Baucus said.

“I’m glad that Congressman Daines will be spearheading this in the House and I look forward to working with him to protect areas like the North Fork that make Montana a special place to live and work,” added Tester.

Community leaders present included Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association; former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown; Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld; and Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner.

Daines recently began a two-week tour across Montana to highlight the state’s natural resources.

Daines spent recent days visiting a number of businesses in the Flathead Valley to learn more about issues facing the region and the management of natural resources in Northwest Montana.

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