A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

28 September 2017 — 1459 mdt

Defunding the Flathead Basin Commission
would be penny wise and damn foolish

Gov. Ted Schwinden signs the 1983 act creating the Flathead Basin Commission.

Responding to Gov. Bullock’s austerity order to identify budget cuts, the Montana Department of Natural Resources proposes cutting the funding (page 1) of the Flathead Basin Commission by 90 percent, according to the Daily InterLake, making it impossible for the FBC to pay its executive director. That cut would have the practical consequence of reducing the commission to an on-paper-only entity, unable to do much except meet, and perhaps not even able to do that, and in danger of receiving a coup de grâce in the 2019 legislative session.

That outcome might please several agencies that consider the FBC a drain on their resources and competition for their jurisdiction, but the demise of the FBC would be a huge setback for efforts to manage the Flathead Lake and River basin as a single environmental entity.

The commission was the product of the five-year Flathead Basin Environmental Impact Study that Max Baucus got authorized; a project governed by a citizen’s board, and the result of fears that a giant coal mine would be dug at Cabin Creek (map), six miles northwest of where the North Fork Flathead River crosses the border with British Columbia. The FBC, which includes representatives from British Columbia, possesses a trans-jurisdictional perspective that was, and is, far greater than the sum of the perspectives of the agencies and individuals comprising the commission. The FBC collected the evidence and marshaled the arguments that led the International Joint Commission to rule that the Cabin Creek Mine would harm Montana fisheries.

Later, the FBC’s work led to the adoption of the limited phosphate ban in the Flathead, a step that slowed the eutrophication of Flathead Lake, and to current efforts to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic species — zebra and quagga mussels, especially — in Flathead Lake.

Over the decades, the FBC has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Montana Legislature because there has been widespread citizen support in the Flathead Basin. If the FBC’s good work is to continue, and the basin’s environment not to be imperiled by the absence of a trans-jurisdictional guiding hand, citizens must now let their legislators know that the DNRC’s plan to eviscerate the FBC’s funding is penny wise and damn foolish, mighty damn foolish.