Protecting the "Serengeti of the North"

On Friday, the Nature Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced that more than $10 million has been raised to preserve British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley — a spectacular wilderness area that straddles the Canada-U.S. border.

“Nature does not recognize international borders,” said John Lounds, CEO and president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “We are extremely proud to be able to achieve globally significant conservation in partnership with governments, conservation groups and businesses on both sides of the border.”

The Flathead River Valley has been called the “Serengeti of the North” because it supports an abundance of life – some of which has existed for more than 400 years—including bighorn sheep, moose, wolverines, elk and the highest density of grizzly bears in the interior of North America. Along with providing a critical habitat to wildlife, the region also supplies more than 100,000 people in Montana with some of the purest drinking water found in North America.

“This incredible landscape is not only home to diverse wildlife, but it also supplies clean drinking water to tens of thousands of people,” said Mark Tercek, CEO and President of the Nature Conservancy. “It is great to see businesses, communities, nonprofits and governments coming together to ensure the Flathead River will remain healthy and productive for generations to come.”

Thanks to a $5.4 million donation from the government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program, $2.5 million from global private equity firm Warburg Pincus and other private donor contributions, 400,000 acres of the Flathead River Valley will now be permanently protected from coal mining, as well as from exploration and development of oil, gas and mineral resources.

“Warburg Pincus is especially proud to play a role in the preservation of the Canadian wilderness,” said Charles R. Kaye, co-president of Warburg Pincus. “Partnerships among the public, private and nonprofit sectors are essential to protecting our natural habitats and the environment and fulfilling our responsibility as good corporate citizens.”

Logging and road-building are still permitted within the area despite the new preservation standards, however, and additional measures will need to be implemented in order to ensure complete preservation of the habitat, says the British Columbia chapter of the Sierra Club. The British Columbia Sierra Club has joined forces with Wildsight, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, the National Parks Conservation Association and Headwaters Montana to urge the government to declare the valley a Wildlife Management Area or a National Park – and in turn, cease timber activity.

“The ban on energy and mining development is a great first step, but the job is far from complete,” said Wildsight Executive Director John Bergenske. “Flathead merits the same high level of protection as the Waterton-Glacier World Heritage Site that adjoins it.”