In late June representatives from American and Canadian environmental organizations will travel to Seville, Spain to make their case for designating Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park a World Heritage Site in Danger.
Will Hammerquist of the National Parks Conservation Association and Ryland Nelson of British Columbia-based Wildsight will testify before the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee to describe the threats posed to Waterton-Glacier by mining and oil and gas development.
“We’re really taking the case of people who love the park and people who care about the North Fork of the Flathead and Flathead Lake to the global community,” Hammerquist says.
Waterton-Glacier would be the first endangered World Heritage Site in North America, and only the third that spans an international border. Hammerquist calls it a dubious distinction, but one that would send a powerful message, despite the fact that UNESCO’s recommendations are nonbinding.
“We’re looking for the committee to really make some substantive recommendations that recognize as long as coal mining and industrial coalfield development is on the table for the headwaters of the Flathead River, the park is going to be endangered,” Hammerquist says.
The designation, adds Nelson, “can carry as much clout as the countries that are managing the site want it to. They can take them with a grain of salt or they can take them very seriously.”
In Canada, Nelson explains, the aim of the designation would be to change B.C.’s land use plan by removing oil and gas development and mining from the list of acceptable uses. Currently, the plan states that “mining and oil and gas development takes precedent over every single other value on the land, period,” Nelson says. “We want to see that changed in a way that will put wildlife and transboundary connectivity as the primary value on the land.”
UNESCO’s consideration of Water-Glacier as a Site in Danger comes after 11 organizations on both sides of the border petitioned it last year.