Local Scientist Honored for Work on Transboundary Flathead River - Erin Sexton Received Fishery Society Award
Erin Sexton is the Transboundary Coordinator for the State of Montana and is a Research Scientist at University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station. Over the past 10 years, Erin has shown tremendous leadership in working to protect the international Flathead River from inappropriate industrial development.
Scientists and conservationists consider the North Fork Flathead River one of America’s wildest rivers due to its pristine water quality and abundant and diverse aquatic and terrestrial life. Since the mid-1970s the river have been threatened by a series of industrial proposals in British Columbia to strip mine coal and drill for coal-bed methane.
Erin's research in association with the Flathead Lake Biological Station contributed significantly to local, state, provincial, and federal authorities in both the U.S. and Canada understanding of the importance of the Transboundary Flathead watershed for conservation. The Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society noted Erin’s relentless efforts to coordinate and develop a solid foundation of science to inform management and decision makers.
For example, Erin was an integral and contributing member of the Flathead Ecosystem Science Team - a collaborative university and multi-agency science partnership established to research the potential impacts of mining and other industrial-type development in the Flathead. Erin coordinated the collection of baseline aquatic data and developed a comprehensive environmental assessment of water quality, aquatic food webs, habitat, native fish, and wildlife in the Flathead system.
Erin's data compared the Flathead with the neighboring Elk River in B.C. where more than 50 years of open-pit coal mining has degraded water quality and biodiversity. By contrast, the pristine aquatic habitats in the Flathead supported healthy aquatic life, including migratory populations of threatened bull trout and weststlope cutthroat trout.
Erin helped establish diplomacy between the United States and Canada at the state/provincial/federal and NGO levels through her personal relationships, communication, and awareness. She identified critical information gaps and always kept the science team and political leaders informed of ongoing threats and developments. She faithfully attended innumerable official meetings, public information gatherings, and forums. She also has served on the Flathead Basin Commission’s Water Quality Task Force since 2005.
She was appointed by Governor Schweitzer to represent Montana during 2009 UNESCO’s fact-finding mission to investigate whether the proposed mining was a threat to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which concluded that mining in the Flathead would be “incompatible” with Peace Park as a World Heritage Site.
Most recently, she helped initiate collaborative research to identify critical data gaps and vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and logging practices in the B.C. Flathead.
We can faithfully say that Erin's tireless work helped directly lead to the 2010 MOU signed by B.C. Premier Campbell and Governor Schweitzer, and to the subsequent legislation banning mining in the B.C. Flathead. In light of her dedication and accomplishments, we want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Erin for her scientific integrity and effective advocacy, at times and places where her information was not always popular.
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Article Source: Headwaters Montana