Timber company collides with gas drillers

  Conservationists have struck a $4 million deal with a progressive Canadian timber company, Tembec Inc., to protect land just west of the Glacier National Park/Waterton Lakes National Park complex.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is buying 3,800 acres of Elk River riparian habitat outright; purchasing a conservation easement on another 7,400 acres; and obtaining a guarantee that Tembec won’t subdivide 86,000 acres for 10 years, while its long-term status is negotiated.

The deal puts the timber company on a collision course with the coalbed methane industry. Even as the deal came together, ChevronTexaco Corp. was drilling three test wells on the land, in anticipation of turning it into a vast field of wellheads, roads, pipelines and compressors.

"We bought this land to grow trees on, and we are concerned by any development that would disrupt the productivity of the ecosystem," says Dennis Rounsville, a Tembec executive.

The provincial government, which encourages gas development, owns the mineral rights, and plans to auction drilling rights to more of the land in April (HCN, 10/8/01: Whoa! Canada!). The conservancy "will be another player at the table," negotiating to soften impacts, Rounsville says. If negotiations get hung up, the government has the power to dictate how development proceeds.