Contested Terrain
North Cascades National Park Service Complex: An Administrative History
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Chapter 15:

The 49th parallel separates the United States and Canada. Like most borders, it represents political rather than geographic realities, including the management of national parks. Two large American national parks lie along the border, North Cascades being one, Glacier the other. The protection of nature in these parks does not stop at the border, but nature protection is subject to matters of international diplomacy, different -- and sometimes similar -- world views and cultural values, and political systems. The creation of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in 1932 recognized the common landscape on either side of the international border, and the common goal of both the United States and Canada in protecting it. [1] North Cascades has not received the same designation, but the border has nevertheless played a significant role in the park's management.

The relationship between Canadian and American officials was mostly friendly and cooperative in the management of North Cascades. The international character of Hozomeen exemplified this cooperative spirit, as did ventures between biologists and park managers from both countries in the management of wildlife and fisheries, and recreational developments. Other aspects of the park's management, however, illustrated that the border sometimes brought together clashing conservation principles. In 1969, Superintendent Roger Contor met with British Columbia parks and forestry officials about the Park Service's desire to provide wilderness protection along the twenty-three miles of boundary shared by the two countries. British Columbia Parks managers understood Contor's desire to have Canadian officials designate some of the adjoining country as national or provincial parks. At bottom, Contor and Park Service leaders hoped that the two countries could manage the borderland for its wilderness values. On the other hand, provincial forestry officials were cool to the proposal. Contor was especially concerned about the province's plans to log the Chilliwack River drainage and provide road access to the area. Logging and road access would scar a beautiful landscape and entrance to the Chilliwack drainage in North Cascades. It would also increase the number of people using this major trail into the park, forcing the agency to post a ranger at the border. Essentially, forestry officials informed Contor that "they planned to log every possible inch of B.C. right up to the international boundary, and that they had no concern for protection of wilderness qualities adjacent to our wilderness. They...had too much, not too little wilderness in B.C. and felt the strength of the province depended upon sustained yield harvest of all resources." [2]

Park Service officials continued to express their desire to preserve the wilderness integrity of the Chilliwack drainage. They urged the provincial government to close the southern end of Chilliwack Lake to logging and other developments, and to expand some of the public parkland it had created on the southern shore of the lake. Superintendent Contor met with some British Columbia conservationists and inspected the southern end of Lake Chilliwack with them in the summer of 1970. His intent was to rally support on the Canadian side of the border for preserving the lake and country between it and the border in its wild state. At the time, provincial forestry officials and the army were planning to log and develop the lake area further, leading to the creation of Supper Park. Logging operations also commenced in the Depot Creek drainage next to the park, further worrying Park Service managers. A cooperative venture in wilderness protection seemed to "fizzle" after this, noted Contor. But there were reasons to be hopeful. Interest in ecological protection, sparked by the environmental movement on either side of the border and the High Ross Dam controversy, grew in British Columbia. In the early 1970s, British Columbia park officials were looking to expand protection for the Skagit Valley Recreation Area and were attempting to have Chilliwack Lake set aside as a provincial park. [3]

In his attempt to "do one of the million things" in need of attention for a new national park, Superintendent Contor directed his efforts elsewhere. However, he urged American conservation organizations to take up the issue of joint management of the area lying between Chilliwack Lake and North Cascades. The catalyst for preservation groups to enter this debate was the planned raising of Ross Dam. In 1971, the North Cascades Conservation Council spoke before the International Joint Commission, voicing its opposition to High Ross Dam, and promoted the establishment of the "Canadian Salish National Park contiguous with the North Cascades Complex." The park would have extended as far east as the Pasayten Wilderness, which bordered Manning Provincial Park to the north. The idea of an international park provided one solution to the current crisis, according to the conservation council and other American and Canadian environmental groups. The international park would recognize the need for "bi-national regional land management," and more importantly allow for the Canadian and U.S. Chilliwack Valley and southern end of Lake Chilliwack to be "managed as a single wilderness valley unit," and prevent any "road extension to the southern end of the lake." Similarly, the international park would recognize the need for "unified management of the Skagit, Pasayten, and Ashnola River valleys." [4]

The proposal for an international park, or for some kind of cross-boundary land management, had the ultimate purpose of blocking Seattle City Light's plans for raising Ross Dam. The High Ross issue was not an isolated incident, its opponents argued; it would have profound ecological consequences for both American and Canadian natural resources. A park or protected area along the international border would help stall or eliminate the project and advance a greater awareness of the importance of preserving the natural values shared by the two countries. In 1975, the National Park Service expressed its support for an international park to the Canadian government should one be established, and that an arrangement similar to the one in place for Waterton-Glacier would work for the North Cascades-British Columbia park. Any further work on the park proposal, it seems, went dormant during the protracted struggle over Ross Dam. [5]

Almost a decade later, the international park idea was renewed with the Ross Dam accord, signed in 1984. The park proposal blossomed with the closer ties between British Columbia and U.S. Park Service officials with the international treaty's creation of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission. The joint commission, composed of Americans and Canadians, administered an endowment fund of $5 million for the enhancement of recreational opportunities in, and the environmental protection of, the upper Skagit drainage above Ross Dam. The establishment of the commission was a way to promote international goodwill after the controversial dam issue was settled, and the projects were meant to aide in the management of Skagit River drainage in both the United States and Canada. It was envisioned that the commission would fund projects for the protection of environmental resources and recreational opportunities, conservation and protection of wilderness and wildlife habitat, development of various studies, and the planning and construction of hiking trails and interpretive displays and signs. The endowment commission had been an important source of funding for projects in the upper Ross Lake area for North Cascades managers. [6]

In 1989, the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission arranged a public meeting in Seattle, Washington, so British Columbia officials could present their proposal to create a new large park formed by joining Manning Provincial Park with the Skagit Valley and Cascade recreation areas. While the new park, across the border from the park complex, was only one of several possibilities in the region's future, it spirited on environmental groups who declared that the new park would be "part of a great international park," including the North Cascades complex. The National Park Service was supportive of the international park idea to the extent that it promoted the agency's larger goal of protecting the North Cascades ecosystem. The 1988 general management plan stated that the park complex would be "managed as an integral part of this regional ecosystem, giving full consideration to potential effects both inside and beyond NPS boundaries." As part of its regional approach to management, the agency had entered into transboundary management with the fire management and grizzly bear recovery programs; it had also begun tentative talks with Canadian officials on the possibility of a jointly managed international park. It was also working with Canadian parks officials, as well as other federal agencies, to determine whether or not a portion of the North Cascades could be designated as a world biosphere reserve. Within this scale of management, the park idea was popular but it seems to have gained little political support within the upper levels of management with these respective agencies. [7]

The idea of an international park was still attractive with environmental organizations. In 1992, a coalition of groups from British Columbia and Washington State formed the Cascades International Alliance. The alliance's goal was to seek full protection for the North Cascades ecosystem with the establishment of a Cascades international park and stewardship area, which would bring parks, recreation areas, wilderness areas, and other protected federal and crown lands to be managed as an ecosystem. The central message was that nature transcended the U.S.-Canadian border and so should its protection. [8]

In March 1994, the international park movement received a legitimate boost with the "Nature Has No Borders" conference held at the University of Washington. Sponsored by the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, and the National Park Service, the conference brought together political and academic leaders from the U.S. and Canada to discuss international ecosystem protection in the North Cascades as well as the designation of an international park and special management areas. In attendance were Commissioner Stephen Owen, head of the British Columbia Commission of Natural Resources and Environment, United States Senator Bruce Vento, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior George Frampton. The conference provided a valuable forum for discussion in an academic sense, but it did not produce a consensus for action. There was no general agreement on what constituted a "greater" ecosystem or on how U.S. and Canadian officials should manage an international ecosystem. Moreover, Park Service leaders, represented by Assistant Secretary Frampton and Deputy Director John Reynolds, gave only qualified support for the international park proposal. The Park Service would pursue the international park concept, it seems, only as long as it had strong public support. In the months following the conference, the international park proposal received considerable press time because it had become controversial, especially in Washington. Property rights advocates and members of the nascent "wise-use" movement denounced the idea, while environmental groups continued to speak about protecting a large expanse of territory. [9]

Although the Park Service appeared to be taking a neutral position on the international park proposal, the agency was frequently associated with the controversial topic because it had co-sponsored the "Nature Has No Borders Conference" and because an international park would encompass the park complex. In June 1995, when the Cascades alliance released its proposal for an international park, the Park Service quickly distanced itself from the subject. In its own press release, the agency asserted that the park idea originated with private citizens and not the Park Service. Superintendent William Paleck appreciated the concern for the future of the North Cascades reflected in the park proposal, but wanted to deflect any criticism leveled at his agency. Essentially, the Park Service would only become actively involved if Congress requested the agency to testify on the matter before Congress. Otherwise, Paleck noted that cross-border cooperation with Canada had been successful in the past and should "continue with or without an international park." [10]

By the early 1990s, the list of cooperative efforts had grown quite long. North Cascades and Canadian park managers had worked together on gray wolf and grizzly bear studies, search and rescue operations, wildland fire suppression and management, planning for facility needs at Hozomeen, trail maintenance, solid waste disposal; they also participated in staff exchanges and providing archaeological consultation as well as technical assistance to the Lower Thompson Tribe. One of the major sources for bringing the two sides together, the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, had also grown. As of 1993, the commission had awarded nearly $3.3 million in grants for 125 projects, all of which provided an invaluable source of funding for the protection and enhancement of the upper Skagit drainage. The endowment had helped fund improvements to the Hozomeen area, including campground rehabilitation and shoreline stabilization, as well as other parts of the recreation area, including interpretive facilities at Happy Creek, the rehabilitation of several boat-in campgrounds, a raptor survey, and an archaeological study. [11]

The two countries also joined forces to address one of the more long-standing issues on the borderland, the relaxed condition of the crossing at Hozomeen. The road from Hope, B.C., into the northern end of Ross Lake was one of three border crossing roads in Washington State without a customs check station. In the early 1970s, Superintendent Lowell White had attempted to tighten controls of the border crossing at Hozomeen, but U.S. Customs officials did not share his concerns, it seems, and would not allow park rangers to be deputized to perform customs duties themselves; there was also no money to support such an operation. Hozomeen's reputation as a quiet eddy lost some of its luster in the early 1990s when customs agents targeted the crossing as a place that required closer attention. Evidently, there was some evidence of drug trafficking on Ross Lake. Support for tighter controls soon followed. Beginning in 1990, park rangers worked with U.S. Customs officials as well as other U.S. and Canadian agencies in operation "Lightning Creek" at the Hozomeen crossing as part of a national drug interdiction program. At least six rangers were certified as deputy customs agents and reported any suspicious activity directly to customs agents at the Sumas crossing. Funding from drug enforcement sources augmented the park's law enforcement program, increased the presence of law enforcement officials at the border, and proved to be an effective way to deter "illegal drug and criminal activity in the Hozomeen area." [12]

The border has a physical presence, too. Where the 49th parallel crosses forested country, a wide clearing identifies the boundary between the United States and Canada like a line on a map. The boundary swath, created and maintained by the International Joint Commission, did not make exceptions for pristine landscapes like the North Cascades or other natural preserves. The boundary line was a symbol of international relations of sorts, a clearing that literally separated the U.S. and Canada. Maintaining the clearing sparked controversy. Federal agencies like the Forest Service and Park Service who protected wild and scenic lands along the border balked at the thought of the boundary commission cutting trees and spraying herbicides along the edges of forests or, as in the case of Waterton-Glacier, directly through a park.

In 1976, the Okanogan National Forest challenged the International Boundary Commission's authority to clear the boundary strip that formed the northern border of the Pasayten Wilderness. Citing the Wilderness Act, the Forest Service legal council argued that the 49th parallel was part of the wilderness area and that the act's provisions precluded the "planned clearing of a strip within the Wilderness by the Commission." The agency lost its protest, however, because the commission asserted that its authority predated that of the Forest Service. The agency should have known the conditions associated with the boundary when it drew the wilderness area's boundary along the border, and been aware that a 1925 international treaty authorized the commission's maintenance of the boundary. The commission also asserted that the Wilderness Act did not prevent its actions. It could commence with routine border maintenance by virtue of the fact that the act made allowances for some use of motorized equipment for administrative purposes. [13]

In 1984, the Park Service addressed the boundary clearing issue in North Cascades. The boundary commission was planning to clear a short section of the Ross Lake NRA border, adjacent to the Pasayten Wilderness. Superintendent Keith Miller decided not to protest the work, based on the legal opinion the Forest Service had received. Although the commission legally had prior rights with which it could enforce its clearing practices, the commission seems to have been open to meeting some of the concerns voiced by both the Forest Service and the Park Service. That year, for instance, the superintendents from Waterton and Glacier national parks met with boundary commission officials to request that the boundary between the two parks no longer be cleared, in part because of the international peace park status. However, the commission held firm to its mission, noting that making one exception to the treaty could lead to more. On a more immediate level, park managers were able to keep herbicides from being used; engineers performing the clearing would only use chainsaws and would burn all slash to avoid insect infestation. The commission would employ similar methods in the northern Cascades. The commission conducted maintenance in approximately twenty to forty year cycles and planned to complete its clearing to the Pacific, across the park complex, in the near future. Although the swath was a visual blight and an affront to wilderness values, according to environmental groups, the Park Service seems to have accepted the legal right of the boundary commission to keep the swath open (approximately twenty feet in width) along the northern edge of the Stephen Mather Wilderness. [14]

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Last Updated: 14-Apr-1999