North Fork NOW!

Protecting the Transboundary Flathead

See maps of the North Fork NOW! project area:

In the Crown of the Continent (download pdf 105 KB)

In the Flathead Watershed (download pdf 109KB)

In the Transboundary region (download pdf 102KB)

The majestic North Fork of the Flathead River is one of one of the wildest rivers in America. Rising in the lush forests of British Columbia, its pristine waters mark the boundary of Glacier National Park and flow hundreds of miles to Montana's Flathead Lake. The Flathead is a vital artery of the 10-million acre Crown of the Continent -- one of perhaps a dozen places on the planet that remains a complete and functioning natural system. It harbors the continent's most magnificent wildlife; grizzly bears, Canada lynx, wolverine, elk and all the other plants and animals that flourished before European settlement isolated them refuges like the North Fork. The Flathead River Valley is also the heart of northwest Montana's cultural and economic vitality.

The Threat

The Flathead's crystalline waters were threatened by proposals for mining and energy extraction. One proposal was for a mountain top removal coal operation expected to process more than 2 million tons of coal a year for 20 years --coal destined for Chinese steel plants. Coal mining in the adjacent Elk River Valley has dramatically increased pollution. Such operations on the North Fork would have done damage for hundreds of miles of the river and surrounding habitat.

A Solution At Last

After years of debate and stalemate, a binational solution to the conflict was reached to stop all mining and drilling the the North Fork. In November 2011, The government of British Columbia passed legislation to end all permits for energy development on public land. In Montana, 80% of the mineral rights within the North Fork have been voluntarily surrendered.

Key to securing this historic agreement was the commitment of The Conservancy and Nature Conservancy of Canada, an unrelated organization, to raise the $10 million dollars needed to help cover the costs of withdrawing mineral rights in the North Fork. Many generous people and organizations, who love this wild place, stepped up and helped us successfully raise these funds.

We extend a special thank you to Warbug Pincus, Mike Goguen, and Tom and Teresa Quinn for providing major capital support for this project.

To complete the picture, in December 2014 the U.S. Congress passed the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. This landmark act permanently protects the North Fork of the Flathead River Watershed by barring future mining or drilling on 430,000 acres adjacent to Glacier National Park in the Crown of the Continent.


Natural Wealth
  •  Forms the Western Boundary of Glacier National Park
  •  Harbors the highest densities of grizzly bears in the Lower 48
  • Critical habitat and travel zone for major wildlife including lynx, bears, wolverines, deer, and elk
  •  Home to the largest concentration of Bull Trout spawning beds or “redds” in the entire Flathead River system
  •  Bull and westslope cutthroat trout migrate more than 250 km, from Flathead Lake, to spawn in the North Fork
  •  A core piece of the 10-million-acre Crown of the Continent – one of barely a dozen completely intact natural systems left on the planet
  • Contributes one-third of the water in Flathead Lake
  • Designated Wild and Scenic River in U.S.
  • Declared an International Biosphere Reserve  
A Community’s Lifeblood

The Flathead River system is at the heart of northwest Montana’s visitor and recreation economy that supports a string of small, rural communities. It’s estimated that Flathead-related tourism brings in $300 million to the economy. A 1997 estimate pegged revenues from fishing on the Flathead alone at $4.7 million – and that was 18 years ago. 

An International Partnership 

Nature Conservancy programs in Montana and Canada, and the Nature Conservancy Canada are among many partners continuing to work across borders to protect the Flathead Basin and the greater Crown of the Continent. 

Other agencies and groups involved in this effort, include:

  • U.S. Department of the Interior
  • U.S. Department of State
  • Province of British Columbia, Office of the Premier
  • Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Governor, State of Montana
  • Montana’s Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester
  • The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe in Montana