Canadian Government Plays Russian Roulette With U.S. River

Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

By Todd Tanner The North Fork of the Flathead River originates in this remote wilderness valley in southern British Columbia. It's an absolutely stunning place, with abundant elk, mule deer, black bear, moose, white-tailed deer, and grizzly bears. There are bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the peaks, eagles ride the air currents, and westslope cutthroat and bull trout swim in the river. Despite these riches, the government of British Columbia is intent on reducing the ridge in this picture to a vast open-pit mine, with coal trucks rumbling through the valley 24 hours a day.Erin Sexton
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

As soon as it enters U.S. territory, the North Fork becomes a federally protected Wild & Scenic River. It flows south, forming the western border of Glacier National Park, then joins with the Middle Fork and the South Fork before emptying into Flathead Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi. Both the river and the lake are known for their excellent angling.Todd Tanner
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

I caught this beautiful bull trout in the North Fork of the Flathead in Canada last July. The water was so clear I could spot trout finning in almost every single pool. These big bulls run all the way up from Flathead Lake to spawn in shallow feeder creeks in the river's headwaters.Todd Tanner
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

Oversized trout aren't the only reason sportsmen love the Flathead. Hugh Rogers of Whitefish, Montana took this impressive bull elk from the watershed last fall. In addition to elk, the North Fork is known for big mule deer and whitetails, as well as grizzly bears and wolves.Hugh Rogers
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

If the mine - known locally as the Cline Mine - becomes reality, this type of landscape (an active BC coal mine) will replace the wilderness that currently exists. The site will be clear-cut, heavy machinery will roll in, and the ridge will literally be torn apart. The Cline Mining Company plans on extracting about 2 million tons of low-grade coal per year, trucking it out of the valley and shipping it to China. The mine would operate round the clock, with huge transport vehicles running 24/ 7 for the next 20 years.Erin Sexton
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

While China would get the coal, Canada the jobs, and Germany and Japan a fair percentage of the profits, the U.S. would get ..... well, the word that seems most appropriate is "screwed." This Mark Schmerling photograph shows toxic coal mine waste running into Cabin Creek, near Leewood, West Virginia. Unfortunately, it's probably the best scenario we can hope for if the Cline mine becomes reality. There's very little anyone could do to keep the Flathead's unbelievably clean water from becoming polluted with coal residue, industrial chemicals, and toxic heavy metals.Mark Schmerling
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

The last slide was the best-case scenario. This one shows the worst-case. Suzanne Webb took the jarring photo above after a catastrophic waste dam failure in Martin County, Kentucky. In this case, 250 million gallons of toxic coal sludge (a common byproduct of coal mining) killed all the aquatic life in two different creeks and contaminated the water supply for more than 27,000 area residents.Suzanne Webb
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

Here's a picture from the Martin County cleanup, taken back in 2000. A local newspaper reported that it took 350 men working almost a month to clean up just 10% of the spill. In a large, fast-moving river system like the Flathead, the damage could extend the full 140 miles of the river and impact Flathead Lake as well as the communities of Columbia Falls and Kalispell. Scientists say that noxious discharge from the mining operation could cross the border and reach Flathead Lake in as little as 48 hours.Suzanne Webb
Save The Flathead

Save The Flathead

So what can American sportsmen do to help? We can't force B.C.'s politicians to protect the area, but we can stand with Canada's hunters and anglers and add our voice to theirs. The Fernie Rod & Gun Club (located in BC) has been a strong advocate for protecting the Flathead. You can show your support for BC's sportsmen and the entire Flathead watershed by e-mailing them at: FRGC@FERNIE.COMTodd Tanner