By Ann McCreary

The Methow Headwaters Campaign, launched earlier this year to fight possible copper mining in Mazama, has received a grant from the Conservation Alliance — an organization of outdoor industry companies — to help build support for the anti-mining campaign.

The Methow Headwaters Campaign is seeking to protect the upper headwaters of the Methow River by pushing for the withdrawal of 340,000 acres of national forest land from future mineral exploration and mining.

The grassroots campaign was launched in response to a permit application from a Canadian mining company to conduct exploratory drilling on U.S. Forest Service land near Flagg Mountain to assess whether there are mineral resources worth extracting. 

The campaign has been enlisting local businesses to join in opposing future mining on the grounds that it would harm the environment and damage the valley’s economy, which depends on outdoor recreation and tourism. About 120 businesses have now signed on in support, according to Maggie Coon, chairman of the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC), which is participating in the campaign.

A formal letter requesting the withdrawal of federal land the upper Methow Valley from future mining has been sent to the Secretary of the Interior and the Chief of the Forest Service.

The Conservation Alliance has provided a $28,000 grant to MVCC for the Methow Headwaters Campaign, to help build community support for the anti-mining campaign.

The Conservation Alliance is an Oregon-based group of 190 outdoor industry companies that distributes annual membership dues in the form of grants to community-based campaigns that protect habitat and areas used for outdoor recreation.

An application to conduct exploratory drilling was filed with the Forest Service in 2013 by Blue River Resources, a Vancouver-based mining company, to drill up to 15 exploratory holes in the vicinity of Flagg Mountain to assess copper deposits in the area.

The Forest Service has been processing the application for the Mazama Copper Project over the past two years despite delays caused by wildfires that diverted staff from the project.

Methow District Ranger Mike Liu said recently that he expects to issue a decision in May to permit the drilling to move forward within conditions set by the Forest Service to mitigate environmental impacts.

The drilling proposal has generated substantial public interest. A public meeting about the project held by the Forest Service in May 2014 drew more than 100 citizens, and the Forest Service received more than 700 comments on the proposal.

The General Mining Act of 1872 does not give the Forest Service authority to deny mineral claims holders the right to explore for and develop mineral rights on federal lands, although it does allow the agency to set requirements for projects to meet environmental laws.