Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Geography (Community and Environmental Planning Option)

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Dr. Sarah J. Halvorson

Commitee Members

Dr. David Shively, Dr. Len Broberg


North Fork, Flathead, Environmental Governance, Adaptive Governance, Transboundary River, Coal Mining


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Human Geography | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Nature and Society Relations | Oil, Gas, and Energy


Global population growth, climate change, and industrialization, are putting extreme pressures on worldwide freshwater supplies (Cosens 2010). Of the global freshwater supplies, transboundary water sources play a crucial role in sustaining populations. Over 40% of humans on Earth rely on a transboundary river or lake for access to water, and 90% of the world’s population lives in countries that share bodies of water with at least one other country (UN 2008). Taken together, the motivations for improving governance of transboundary water systems have never been stronger. To meet the challenges associated with transboundary water governance, researchers working at multiple scales and across international, state and sub-state levels, have been applying the concepts of adaptive governance to analyze complex water contexts (Cosens 2010, Akamani and Wilson 2011, and Chaffin et al. 2016).

To contribute to this body of work and extend transboundary water governance literature, this study applies the lens of adaptive governance (AG) to an historic analysis of the environmental governance of the pristine and wild international Flathead River that cuts across the border between Canada and the United States. Proposed coal mines in the upper basin located in the western Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) threatened this diverse river environment from 1974 to 2014. Fortunately, dual mining bans passed by BC and the US in 2011 and 2014, respectively, removed this industrial threat from the entire basin. To better understand how these bans emerged this study identifies and examines four key historic events that were crucial to collaboration across borders and communities and to preventing coal mining. This study uses a conceptual framework for AG, which describes the criteria necessary for AG to emerge and the governance conditions that functional AG enables. This analytical framework helps to shed light on the extent to which AG emerged during the 40 year timespan and the ways in which the key events constituted adaptations. Results showed that an adaptive outcome was reached but that the complexities of transboundary environmental governance prevented adaptations in most instances. Examining the recent history of the international Flathead River advances our understanding of the unique sequence of events that resulted in preserving, at least for the present, a unique transboundary ecosystem. This understanding also contributes to the need for creative strategies to improve transboundary water governance outcomes globally.



© Copyright 2018 Jedd Sankar-Gorton