British Columbia

Protect B.C.'s Flathead River Valley, UNESCO urges

UNESCO is recommending protection for a pristine swath of wilderness in southeastern B.C., asking that it be made part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which stretches across Alberta and Montana and is a world heritage site.

UNESCO is recommending protection for a pristine swath of wilderness in southeastern B.C.

A new report by the world heritage committee of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization suggests a portion of the Flathead River Valley become part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta and Montana.

It says the B.C. and federal governments should designate the area part of the cross-boundary park so it will have the same ecological protection as the region already has in Montana and Alberta, where Waterton-Glacier has world heritage site status.

Conservationist groups, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, say a February agreement between B.C. and Montana to ban mining and oil and gas development in the valley is a good first step but doesn't go far enough.

They say the region has one of the most diverse concentrations of wildlife in B.C. and needs further protection.

The report, being released this week in Brazil, is the result of a UN mission to the region in September 2009 at the urging of conservationists.

Like Clayoquot Sound and the Stein River Valley before it, the East Kootenays Flathead Valley has been an environmental battleground for years.

Prime ministers and U.S. presidents have waded into the debate, asking the B.C. government to protect the pristine valley.

The valley is home to the largest population of inland grizzly bears on the continent, but it also holds massive coal and gas reserves that Shell and other oil and gas companies have spent millions of dollars preparing to explore and develop.