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Sierra Daily

Dec 10, 2012

Oops! Mapping Error Threatens Canadian Flathead

Flathead coalLast year Sierra published "Flathead Guardians," an adventure tale in which writer/photographer Aaron Teasdale (at right) explored British Columbia's Flathead Valley by mountain bike and packraft. Drama was provided in the form of the threat of a major mountaintop-removal coal mine on the very peak Teasdale is standing on.

Coal was everywhere. In open piles at our feet, in exposed seams in the rock. Had [the] mining plan gone through, these mountains, the forest we'd just ridden through, the spring we'd drunk from, all the porcupine's protectorate would be a vast open pit.

Happily, however, we were able to report that "Under intense pressure from conservationists in the run-up to the [2010 Winter Olympics], the B.C. government surprised everyone by announcing a temporary ban on all mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead."

Now, however, Canadian conservationists have discovered that a nearly 15,000-acre parcel of the Flathead headwaters is not covered by the B.C. ban, because is is part of the "Dominion Coal Blocks," a parcel given by the provincial government to the Canadian federal government more than a century ago to help underwrite construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. They are said to contain 8.6 billion tons of coal, in addition to huge amounts of coalbed methane. Natural Resources Canada has posted maps of the coalbed methane potential of the area on its Web site, leading conservationists to fear "that interest in the Blocks' development potential is current and active." 

"Coal mining is hot in B.C. right now," says Sarah Cox, spokesperson for Sierra Club B.C. "There are already five coal mines in the adjacent Elk Valley, and plans for a new Chinese-owned mine in part of our proposed wildlife management area." The Flathead Valley is currently a refuge for grizzly, wolverine, and bighorn sheep; conservationists have pressed the B.C. provincial government for years to agree to a new national park in the southeastern portion of the valley. They've now fallen back, however, on urging the federal government to respect B.C.'s mining moratorium for the area. "In the meantime," says Cox, "that area is not legally covered by the ban."   

Photo of proposed mining site in Flathead Valley courtesy of Aaron Teasdale.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

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