Flathead Feast and BioBlitz

Sierra Club BC website, September 2012

On August 20, more than 80 people gathered in B.C. and Montana to share a meal across the Canada-U.S. Flathead border. The feast celebrated the legislated ban on mining and energy development in B.C.’s Flathead River Valley and emphasized that the B.C. Flathead, slated for logging, is still urgently in need of permanent protection.

Read Sarah Cox’s blog about the event.

Anchored by one of the purest rivers in the world, B.C.’s Flathead was an unusually busy place this August. Prior to the feast, artists and scientists gathered to document the area’s beauty and biodiversity in a 10-day BioBlitz and artist workshop.

The first-ever Flathead BioBlitz involved ten biologists spending one week in and around the Flathead River Valley, surveying the area to begin compiling an account of the biodiversity there. Each day, they rose up bright and early to head out to a new spot and catalogue as many species as they could find.

Funky Spiders and other Critters

A team of three top entomologists and spider experts from the Royal BC Museum, led by Dr. Robb Bennett, sifted through rock slides and searched varied forest types for specimens. Also in the group was a botanist, a team of gastropod (slugs and snails) experts, a limnologist (a freshwater scientist), and an ornithologist (birds). We are very fortunate to have assembled such a high-calibre group – all well-regarded in their field, and most of them from B.C. (two joined us from Montana).

Exactly how many species were found will take some time to determine, as the biologists classify and count up their specimens over the next few months. We have already heard one thing from these experts, however: the Flathead River Valley is an area of supreme biological richness. This is no surprise, of course, considering that the area directly borders the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a World Heritage Site and two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The Flathead is in the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa First Nation.

The results of this BioBlitz will help us demonstrate just how important the area is in supporting wildlife, from the little critters in the river’s channel, right up the food chain to the grizzlies, for whom the Flathead Valley is a vital link as they travel through the Rockies. B.C.’s Flathead should be a safe haven for grizzlies and other animals, with the same high level of protection as the adjoining Waterton-Glacier.

Capturing the Action

Along with the Flathead Wild team members, renowned conservation photographer Jaime Rojo was there to capture stunning images and video of the BioBlitz and artist workshop, like this photo of a caterpillar on a blade of grass (right). We look forward to sharing more of these images soon.

You can see more of the Flathead in this video made during the last big expedition to the Flathead, in 2009.

The Cross-Border Feast

To wrap up the BioBlitz, Canadians and Americans met at the defunct Flathead border station, serving up a meal on either side of the international boundary. The feast highlighted cross-border efforts to protect this transboundary treasure permanently. During the meal, a deer ran past the group, moving without thought across the border, just one of many species who travel this area on both sides of the boundary.

“We set up the tables in two long rows on each side of the border, almost touching at the gate,” said Sierra BC’s Sarah Cox, who was at the feast. “The rules were that no-one could cross the international boundary and that food could not be passed across the gate, which sealed the closure of the Flathead border crossing in 1996.”

While food stayed on each side of the border, conversation and laughter flowed easily across the barrier. Sierra Club BC and other conservation groups share a common goal – a national park in the southeastern one-third of the valley, to complete Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and an international wildlife management area in the rest of the valley and adjoining habitat to preserve a vital link in North America’s longest remaining wildlife corridor.

Learn more about the Flathead River Valley.