MISSOULA -- With one wildfire menacing Going-to-the-Sun Road and another threatening to hop the Continental Divide into the Two Medicine basin, the last thing Jeff Mow needed last August was a new burn starting next to the isolated Goat Haunt Ranger Station along Waterton Lake.

“It may have broken all kinds of rules, but we delegated management of that fire to Parks Canada,” the Glacier National Park superintendent told the Crown of the Continent Roundtable audience Wednesday. “It was the right thing to do. And it speaks to the shared values at risk and the comfort we had working with each other. They had put the town of Waterton Lake on evacuation notice during that event. And we signed away delegation of authority to Canada in that case.”

Fortunately, the little fire only burned a couple of dozen acres before Canadian helicopters and ground crews controlled it -- on the American end of Waterton Lake’s transboundary waters. But for Mow and many others at the international conference on the University of Montana campus this week, it was evidence of how political boundaries can become permeable when the needs of large landscapes take prominence.

While that kind of cross-border cooperation is fairly new, Mow said it built on an idea that’s decades old: The notion of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier Park in Montana forming an international peace park recognized around the world as an example of how landscape management can be done better. At last year's World Parks Conference in Sydney, Australia, Mow said he met park managers from around the globe who knew of Waterton-Glacier and hoped to copy its ideal.

And the region has new opportunities to build on, according to Ian Dyson, senior manager for planning at Alberta’s Environment and Parks Ministry. Last week’s designation of an area twice the size of Waterton as Alberta’s new Castle Provincial Park and Wildland is the latest example.

“The bigger challenge will be to demonstrate stewardship on the landscape,” Dyson said. “We’ve benefited greatly from our American colleagues in developing conservation priorities such as guarding against invasive species.”

Dyson credited the Crown of the Continent Roundtable’s collection of agency leaders, academics, advocacy groups and business people with both identifying shared challenges and nurturing the social buy-in needed to make solutions work. He said Crown priorities such as fire management, wildlife connectivity, and preservation of threatened species like whitebark pine and grizzly bears were made more palatable to local governments because roundtable members could explain and justify the issues.

“Right now, we’re looking at the Montana experience with the restoration economy,” Dyson said of the state’s ability to provide good jobs restoring or rehabilitating past industrial wastelands. “There is great interest in that as we enter a new era in southwest Alberta.”

While Glacier and Waterton share a park border and park visitor issues, the Rocky Mountains just north and south juggle more multiple-use concerns. The Alberta provincial government had to confront timber and mining claims in the Castle parklands, while U.S. Forest Service officials face similar questions in and around the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Forest Service Region 1 Forester Leanne Marten said current updates to the agency’s forest management plans would be done in three to five years, instead of the past timeframe of a decade or more. But she told students in the UM audience that even with the more efficient process, the authors of those plans would likely pass on implementation to younger colleagues.

That brought Dyson back to the long-term nature of the Crown of the Continent Roundtable’s vision.

“Our challenge is to keep these interrelationships across the resources we’re all managing,” Dyson said. “Because as far as the critters are concerned, they’ll be moving through all our jurisdictions.”

Rob Chaney can be reached at rchaney@missoulian.com.


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