Montana governor pushes Canada-U.S. land protection deal
Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants to protect the area surrounding Glacier National Park and the critical habitats it provides.
Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 06:12 PM
PARK PROTECTION: The Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park has been dubbed the "Swiss Alps of America” because of its Matterhorn-like peaks. (Photo: National Geographic)
Gov. Brian Schweitzer isn't done jousting with federal officials over a deal with Canada to protect the area surrounding Glacier National Park.
Montana's governor used the bully pulpit over the weekend as chairman of the Western governors to again criticize his federal partners in the deal — even as the Obama administration was talking with the Canada about moving the state-level pact along.
On Monday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed ways their respective federal agencies could help solidify the deal first chartered by Montana and British Columbia this year. The talks took place over the weekend at summit meetings in Canada.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, has railed against the administration for failing to cough up the $17 million he says is needed to compensate two Canadian mining companies for their projects that would be banned under the agreement he hashed out with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.
Conservationists have hailed the deal as a big step in protecting the Flathead River Basin region they say provides critical habitat to grizzly bears and other animals.
On Sunday, Schweitzer used the podium at the Western Governor's Association to prod the Montana congressional delegation — led by fellow Democrats U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester — to sign onto federal legislation that could pay for the project.
"Don't be running after the bus," Schweitzer said in comments directed at the delegation. "Get on the bus and sit beside the driver."
Baucus and Tester were quick to react, pointing out they have been in negotiations for weeks over the legislation that could help formalize the memorandum of understanding Schweitzer initiated.
"We're moving full steam ahead to get everyone on the same page, because we all support the endgame," Tester said in a statement. "And it's time we move forward with everyone working together at the table, with all options on the table. That's why Max and I have spent weeks shaping it to try to make it work for the North Fork."
Baucus' office has pointed out that Schweitzer's memorandum of understanding is not a binding agreement and only succeeds if it is followed by a federal-level international deal. It is complicated by Schweitzer's request to send federal taxpayer money to Canadian companies.
"Max and Jon know how important it is to protect the Flathead Basin on both sides of the border, and that is why they have been looking at every opportunity to bring permanent protection," said Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf. "Max and Jon are going to keep pushing forward until this issue is resolved once and for all."
Schweitzer said the federal action would be an endorsement of what the people want.
"We believe it is binding, because it is the will of the people of both British Columbia and Montana," he said.
Baucus and Tester also sent a letter Monday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking for high-level talks involving the State Department, Department of Interior, British Columbia and the state of Montana to codify permanent protection for the Flathead River Basin.
Schweitzer has said he does not think it was likely he could persuade the Montana Legislature to use state money for the project.
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