Northwest Montana has a new organization dedicated to the protection of our priceless watersheds. As expressed in its mission statement, Watershed Protection Advocates of Northwest Montana (WPA) is committed to “supporting and encouraging sustainable, thoughtful and responsible management of natural resources. WPA will pursue these objectives through public education, advocacy, the development of solutions to complex issues, collaboration with a diverse array of public and private sector entities, and—when necessary—legal action.”
WPA will serve as a complement to existing groups and agencies, filling gaps in natural resource protection efforts. Among the issues that WPA will focus on are prevention of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), rail safety associated with the transport of hazardous materials along river corridors and through our communities, mining, drought & flood planning, and other water quality issues.
The origins of WPA can be traced back to the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC). In 1983, the legislature established the FBC as an autonomous commission. Unfortunately, state funding for the FBC began to erode in 2015. In response, the Commission authorized the establishment of the Flathead Basin Protection Fund (FBPF) as a nonprofit corporation to assist in raising funds to support the FBC’s mission.
In 2017, however, the Bullock administration stripped the FBC of its funding, staff, and chairperson, compromising the FBC’s ability to carry out its legislatively established mandate of operating without undue political interference. In June 2018, the FBC, under the direction of Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), opted to no longer work on Aquatic Invasive Species. That action contravened state law regarding the independence of commissions, and also defied key elements of AIS laws passed in the last legislative session. In effect, the DNRC silenced the Basin’s most vocal voice on AIS issues.
In response to these actions, the board of the Flathead Basin Protection Fund decided to remake the organization as the Watershed Protection Advocates of Northwest Montana (WPA), and to vigorously advocate for the mission originally assigned to the Flathead Basin Commission. Jan Metzmaker, immediate former Chair of the FBC, was removed in 2018 by Governor Bullock’s administration, and is now serving as the Chair of the newly formed WPA. Metzmaker said, “While the situation with the Flathead Basin Commission is unfortunate, the newly formed WPA provides a unique opportunity to serve as an advocate for threatened natural resources in the Flathead and offers a true voice for western Montana residents.”
Metzmaker emphasized that the goal of the WPA is to fill the gaps left by the unfunded FBC. “We are not seeking to duplicate what other organizations are doing, but we are looking to work in partnership with existing organizations to better protect natural resources in NW Montana,” Metzmaker stated.
Thompson Smith, former Chair of the FBC, now serves as a WPA Board member. Smith stated, “John Tubbs, Directors of the Bullock administration’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, unfortunately decided to prioritize political control over protection of the resource. The FBC worked very hard to build working relationships with the state but was in the end punished for refusing to abandon its independence or to back down on issues related to AIS prevention efforts.”
Smith said, “While WPA was formed in response to the state’s actions, it will serve as an objective, fair, and positive advocate for Northwest Montana, dedicated to the protection of the resource and the diverse communities of our region. It is important for us to have an organization that will advocate constructively and fairly for what is needed, on AIS and other issues—and will also have the integrity and courage to call for change when that is needed. “We look forward to working with federal, tribal, state, and local governments, as well as elected officials, citizen groups and businesses to develop solutions to address the issues which threaten our cherished natural resources” Smith said.
Existing funding held by WPA will be used to fund an assessment of Montana’s AIS prevention programs. Metzmaker stated that “The goal of the assessment is to provide agencies, decision-makers and the public with the information necessary to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s AIS program and would be based solely on data obtained by the Watershed Protection Advocates, rather than on subjective, anecdotal information.”
The board of WPA includes:
- Jan Metzmaker (Chair), former Chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, retired director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, founding director of The Glacier Fund, and a past member of the Whitefish City Council;
- Thompson Smith, historian for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, former Chair of the Flathead Basin Commission and former Executive Director of the Flathead Resource Organization;
- Corky Clairmont, the founder and former Director of the Art Department at Salish Kootenai College and a past board member of Montana Conservation Voters;
- Jim Rogers, former geologist and a retired educator that taught science and geography at Polson High School and Salish Kootenai College;
- Julie DalSoglio, former Director of the EPA, Region 8 and past board member of the Flathead Basin Commission;and
- Onno Wieringa, former co-owner of Glacier Raft Company and former general manager of Alta Ski Resort.
WPA’s sole contractor will be Caryn Miske, former Executive Director of the Flathead Basin Commission. Prior to her service on the FBC, Miske worked as a land use attorney, an environmental consultant, and a fundraiser, as well as several stints in advertising and publishing. Miske is expected to come on board in the later part of August.
The organization is currently housed under the umbrella of the Flathead Community Foundation, in full compliance with all IRS requirements.
For more information about the Watershed Protection Advocates contact Jan Metzmaker at firstname.lastname@example.org.