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Citing its supply of clean water and the coalition of support backing its protection, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines on Wednesday introduced legislation restricting new mineral development in the North Fork Flathead watershed.

Daines, R-Mont., introduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the House of Representatives, joining U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, who introduced a similar measure in the Senate.

Daines, who said in March he planned to introduce the bill, called the latest progress a win-win for Montana and the future generations.

“Montanans are looking for bipartisan cooperation, and I think this is an example of our delegation working to do the right thing for Montana,” Daines told the Missoulian. “I’m an avid sportsman. That heritage was passed on to me by my father and my grandfather, and I want to pass that on to my kids. This is looking out for the next generation.”

Like the act introduced by Baucus and Tester, Daines’ legislation seeks to remove the North Fork watershed from new energy and mineral development.

If passed, the act would build on past efforts, each successful, to persuade ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy to relinquish their oil and gas leases on roughly 200,000 acres in the watershed.

Daines said his legislation also ensures that current recreation uses, along with livestock and forest management activities, are maintained in the North Fork.

“There are constituents who have expressed concern about grazing rights and multiple uses,” said Daines spokesperson Alee Lockman. “That clause makes it crystal clear. We’re all on the same page.”

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The bipartisan effort won broad support across multiple interests, ranging from the Montana Logging Association and Citizens for Balanced Use, among others.

Trevor Kincaid, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, hailed the bill as one that will protect Montana’s outdoor heritage.

“We can always find equal ground between resource extraction and safeguarding our public lands,” Kinkaid said. “With support from Montana’s entire delegation, this bill sends a clear message that clean water and protected watersheds are priorities that rise above partisan politics.”

Baucus and Tester both lauded Daines’ efforts to introduce the bill in the House. Baucus has spent nearly 40 years working to protect the North Fork, beginning with his successful 1975 proposal to designate the Flathead as a Wild and Scenic River.

Both Democrats reintroduced their own version of the bill earlier this year. The act has twice stalled in previous sessions. If passed, the legislation would complete a transboundary agreement protecting the Flathead River drainage from energy and mineral development on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border.

Keith Olson, executive director of the Montana Logging Association, was pleased with the bill and its contents.

“Introduction of this bill shows Daines is committed to pursuing solutions supported by a diverse coalition of local leaders of the Flathead Valley, and also ensures forest management activities in the valley are not inhibited by his bill,” said Olson.

Michael Jamison, the Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, also was pleased with Daines’ bill.

“The legislation enjoys broad and bipartisan support across the state, costs taxpayers nothing, protects the engines driving our region’s economy, and honors all private property,” said Jamison.

Daines said the bill will now be assigned to a House committee. He said he’ll work on getting it through committee to the House floor for a vote.

“We’ll work closely with Baucus and Tester on their side,” he said. “We’ll work to get it passed in both the House and Senate.”

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Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at newsdesk@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5240

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