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HELENA — Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have reintroduced a bill that would bar mining and new oil and gas development on the North Fork watershed of Montana's Flathead River.

Baucus said Monday in announcing the legislation that he hopes the bill will build on the success they've had in getting companies to retire oil and gas development leases in the area.

Companies such as ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy have voluntarily relinquished more than 200,000 acres, or about 80 percent of the total leased acreage.

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The Montana Democrats introduced a similar bill last March, but the full Senate failed to take action on it.

That bill followed an agreement by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia to protect the region.

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