THE THREAT: COPPER MINING IN THE UPPER METHOW
The North Cascades of Washington hold some of the finest backcountry skiing in North America. In the northeast corner of the range sits the Methow Valley, a sleepy albeit “discovered” community surrounded by some the most inspiring terrain in the range. Anyone who has visited the valley, in summer or winter, knows what a rarity such places are in today’s world of bigger-is-better driven resorts and disneyfication of our wild places.
In April 2014, a Canadian Company—Blue River Resources—filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Flagg Mountain on U.S. Forest Service land, at the north end of the Methow Valley. Under the antiquated 1872 mining law, any citizen or private company can stake such claims, and the agency must entertain and evaluate such proposals. The Methow Valley—especially farther west near Harts Pass—has a long history of mining, and Flagg Mountain has been explored several times historically, but not since the 1970s by the Quintana Company. Exploratory drilling is the first step to developing a large-scale, likely open-pit mine in the upper Methow.
It’s expected that the Forest Service will allow Blue River to move forward with the exploratory drilling in August 2016. Exploratory drilling is the first critical step toward mine development.
The 1872 Mining Law is antiquated and allows virtually free access to minerals on nearly all federal lands. Virtually all of the remaining federal lands in the Methow are open to industrial-scale mining operations like that envisioned for Flagg Mountain.
To attempt to counter the immediate threat on Flagg Mountain, and any future proposals, a group by the name of the Methow Headwaters has formed to rally support against the Blue River Mining proposal. The group has created a proposal, the Methow Headwaters Campaign, to secure a “mineral withdrawal” for the federal lands that compose the headwaters of the Methow watershed, approximately 340,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. This decision falls on the shoulders of the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service—from the Chief’s office down to the Methow Valley Ranger District.
On May 25, 2016, the Methow Headwaters Campaign received a major boost with the introduction of federal legislation, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Cantwell (D-WA). This legislation provides a legislative route to protecting the Methow headwaters and ensures that the waters, working landscapes, wildlife, outdoor recreation, and the local economy of the Methow Valley will be permanently protected from large-scale mining. Introduction of this legislation also provides an important path for the U.S. Forest Service to enact a short-term mineral withdrawal of the headwaters region while the legislation makes its way through Congress.
Methow Headwaters appears to have good momentum toward protecting the natural resources of the Methow but it is important to show the scale of support that is behind protecting the North Cascades for future generations. Learn more about the issues, how to stay tuned or to provide support at Methow Headwaters.