It may still be a long shot, but if the prime minister of Canada agrees, the Canadian portion of the world’s first peace park, Waterton-Glacier, will soon double in size.
Steve Thompson, Glacier field representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, says an unprecedented agreement between two historical antagonists could fill in a gaping hole on the map. In the past 18 months Canadian advocates for the park and Tembec Inc., a forestry company, agreed that Tembec would give up its logging rights in the proposed expansion area on the east side of the Flathead River. In exchange, Tembec would receive financial compensation it would use to upgrade its mill. Says Tembec vice president Jim Lopez: “In essence, Tembec would be kept whole and this investment will have a positive long-term impact on the mill’s competitiveness and the dependent community. This has the potential to be a win-win solution.”
The proposed expansion would double the size of the Waterton portion of the park by adding another 100,000 acres. Expanding the boundary is ecologically significant since the Canadian Flathead serves as the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River, which flows into Flathead Lake, the largest and cleanest lake west of the Mississippi River. Many experts say that Waterton-Glacier, and particularly the transboundary Flathead, may be the single most important basin for carnivores in the Rocky Mountains.
Advocates of the expansion hope that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien will approve the measure this year, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, though nothing is certain.
“I’ve never been part of something like this before,” says Thompson. “The political variables are at such a level that no one knows what will happen.” Rumors are circulating, Thompson says, that Chretien and President George Bush will make the announcement at this June’s G-8 meeting to be held in Kananaskis, Alberta. “Everyone wants to look green during an election year,” he says.
Thompson quotes Nelson Mandela when he speaks of the importance of expanding an international peace park.
Speaking last December at an “elephant release ceremony” on a proposal to establish a transboundary peace park in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Mandela said: “I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace park concept as we see it going into fruition today. It can be embraced by all. In a world beset by conflict and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.”