British Columbia

Poll finds public support for national park in B.C.'s Flathead Valley

Environmentalists say a new poll shows broad public support in B.C.'s Kootenay region for a national park in the Flathead River Valley.

Environmentalists say a new poll shows broad public support in B.C.'s Kootenay region for a national park in the Flathead River Valley.

The poll, conducted for the Sierra Club of BC and Wildsight, found 73 per cent of respondents would support a national park in the lower one-third of the valley, while 16 per cent said they would oppose a national park in the area.

Sarah Cox, communications director of the Sierra Club of BC, said it backs up what conservation groups have argued for years.

"This is very significant. People who live in the Kootenay know that the Flathead River Valley deserves the same level of protection as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park," Cox said.

The valley, in southeastern British Columbia, is the province's last unsettled low-elevation valley. It has been compared to Africa's Serengeti National Park for its richness of plant species and was recently called a "nursery" of wildlife by National Geographic Magazine.

But the valley is also popular with hunters and trappers — and it's a prime site for coal-bed methane drilling and mineral extraction.

Methane drilling opposed

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Wildsight have been calling for a halt of coal-bed methane development in the area.

They want part of the valley to be preserved as an extension of the Waterton-Glacier park, which spans Alberta and Montana.

"We're now saying to the provincial government, 'Look, a large majority of the people in this region want this to happen. What's the problem here? What's the holdup?' We need this protected," said Casey Brennan, Wildsight's Southern Rockies program manager.

The local MLA and provincial tourism minister, Bill Bennett, said he understands the need to protect the valley from more coal-bed methane development.

However, he's not convinced the public would support measures that would limit motorized access, and eliminate trapping and hunting, in the lower Flathead River Valley.

"I think we need to keep the Flathead managed the way it is today, for people to use, but to manage it very carefully and I think that means, frankly, that we shouldn't put any new mines there," Bennett said.

He said the poll's outcome might have been different if it had asked one basic question: whether residents support eliminating trapping, hunting and logging in the area.

Parks Canada has included the Flathead River Valley in its National Parks Action Plan, but it needs approval from the B.C. government before proceeding.

The telephone survey randomly contacted 910 residents in three provincial ridings: East Kootenay, Nelson-Creston and Columbia River-Revelstoke.

It was conducted by McAllister Opinion Research and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.2 per cent.