Campaign Seeks to Fend Off Mining in the Methow Valley

Concerns over a proposed industrial mining site have prompted citizens, businesses, and organizations to form the Methow Headwaters Campaign, which aims to halt mining on the watershed's U.S. Forest Service lands.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
May 19, 2016

The Methow Valley sits in the cradle of more than twenty 8,000-foot peaks, their snow-covered summits melting into a web of rivers and tributariesIt’s a human-powered recreationist’s dream, home to the nation’s largest cross-country ski area, a heralded section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and a vast expanse of wild forests with some of the best hiking, backpacking, paddling, and fly-fishing around. 

However, the area appeals to more than just recreationists. A Canadian company has filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Flagg Mountain, which sits on U.S. Forest Service land. In response, the Methow Headwaters Campaign proposes to secure a “mineral withdrawal” from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This action would prohibit mining on the Methow watershed’s federal lands—approximately 340,000 acres in total.  

Join us in safeguarding the Methow Valley from mining.

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THE THREAT

As the Methow Headwaters’ campaign explains, the Valley’s drinking water, wildlife habitats, salmon recovery, and robust recreation economy can suffer adverse effects from mining. In response to the dangers,  the campaign has gained support from diverse groups—ranging from local outfitters and conservation groups to small businesses and local agriculture groups.

While we at The Mountaineers place particular emphasis on outdoor access and the recreation economy, it's important to note the full scope of mining implications. The Methow is a thriving agricultural community with hundreds of small family farms and ranches, many committed to sustainable practices to produce clean food. Clean water and a healthy local environment is critically important to these families’ livelihood and way of life. They’ve also lined up in support of the Methow Headwaters campaign.

Another galvanizing source of concern is the Methow River, which runs 1,000 feet deep in parts, seeping through the ancient glacial deposits on the valley floor. Industrial-scale, open pit mining in the upper reaches of the valley is an unacceptable threat to this pristine watershed. The Methow River is crucial to Upper Columbia salmon recovery with nearly $100 million being invested in the Methow alone.

Far Reaching Implications

Here are a few key reasons why mining on Flagg Mountain has such far reaching implications:

  • This deposit would likely require an open-pit approach. The infrastructure required would impact a minimum of 3,000 acres—six square miles—of land in the narrow valley to accommodate the pit, waste rock, and other facilities.
  • Full-scale mining will cause years of disruption to the area through increased heavy truck traffic and industrial activity, visual impacts, and disruption of wildlife and their habitat.
  • Despite ongoing advances in techniques and required cleanup plans, accidents and spills that affect water quality are known to happen with devastating results, and ensuring required mitigation performance often falls short of commitments.

Learn more about The Threat.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Under an antiquated 1872 mining law, any citizen or private company can stake claims on U.S. Forest Service lands, and the agency must entertain and evaluate such proposals. The law leaves these lands exposed to mining prospects, and in the case of Methow Valley, it’s expected that this spring the Forest Service will allow exploratory drilling to move forward in August 2016. Exploratory drilling is the first step to developing a large-scale, likely open-pit mine in the upper Methow. However, a mining withdrawal can stop this process.

Meeting the needs of the people

The Methow Valley is a microcosm of a much larger debate: the best use of U.S. Forest Service lands. The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands. The agency seeks to protect and manage the forest lands so they best demonstrate a sustainable approach to meet the diverse needs of the people for current and future generations.

Can preserving these lands meet these “diverse needs”? Here at The Mountaineers, we believe the answer is yes. Public lands—like the Methow Valley—are  integral to our quality of life and they fuel a recreation economy that depends on intact, healthy forests.

Each year, the recreation economy—powered by people who flock to these places precisely because they’re wild—pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into our nation’s hotels, shops, restaurants, and communities.  In the Methow, nearly one million visitors per year contribute more than $150 million to Okanogan County’s economy.  In their landmark study, The Outdoor Industry Association featured the Methow Valley as an example of a region that saw important economic benefit from outdoor recreation and the active outdoor lifestyle.

Supporters of  Methow Headwaters Campaign believe mining threatens the economy of communities in the Valley.

Senators call for withdrawal

U.S  Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) recently introduced legislation that would safeguard 340,000 acres of existing federal lands in the region.  Said Murray of The Methow Headwaters Protection Act of 2016, “I am proud to work with the community to protect this environmentally sensitive area of the Methow River Valley, ensure critical federal investments in salmon recovery are protected, and continue to support the Valley’s thriving outdoor recreation economy.” This legislation helps highlight the Valley and provides support for the campaign. 

An end to mining in the Methow

Here’s Methow Headwaters Campaign proposal to protect the Valley:

  • Build public support and awareness of the proposal and need for action from the local to national level.
  • Work to educate land managers and decision-makers on the need for protection against the impacts of industrial-scale mining.
  • Request the Secretary of the Interior to initiate (and ultimately complete) the withdrawal process for the Methow Headwaters region. 

The Methow is the heart of stunning outdoor opportunities in Washington. We love this place. We love this community. Our recreation is their economy. Please sign the petition if you value this place as we do.

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