Group continues push to protect USFS land from mining
By Ann McCreary
One year ago the Methow Headwaters Campaign launched an initiative to protect more than 340,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the upper Methow Valley from future mining.
On Sunday (Feb. 19), the Headwaters Campaign released a new short documentary about the campaign and celebrated its successful effort to withdraw the land — for at least two years — from any new mineral exploration or mining.
An event at the Winthrop Barn drew an estimated 400 people to see the new film, “Methow Headwaters — Too Special to Mine,” and hear an update on the campaign.
“What a difference a year makes,” Maggie Coon, one of the campaign leaders, said to the standing-room-only crowd. “I don’t think any of us could have imagined the amazing progress we would make. Nor could we imagine the context in which we are moving this forward.”
The campaign succeeded last year in persuading federal agencies to initiate a “mineral withdrawal” for 340,047 acres of Forest Service land in the rugged mountains around Mazama.
A mineral withdrawal, Coon explained, “is a land designation that prohibits exploration to establish new mining claims, and requires that existing claims be proved valid … using information available at the time the mineral withdrawal is initiated.”
The withdrawal was initiated Dec. 30 with a “notice of segregation,” which makes the land off-limits to new mineral exploration and mining for the next two years while the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior evaluate whether to extend the temporary withdrawal for 20 years.
A 90-day comment period on the proposed mineral withdrawal is currently underway, and is scheduled to end March 30. A public meeting about the mineral withdrawal is expected to be scheduled, hopefully in the Methow Valley, before the comment period ends, Coon said.
The Methow Headwaters Campaign was launched last year in response to plans by a Canadian-based company, Blue River Resources Ltd., to conduct exploratory drilling to assess copper deposits on Flagg Mountain near Mazama. That drilling was viewed as a first step toward industrial scale open-pit mining.
“We believe Blue River Resources cannot demonstrate a valid existing claim as of December 2016,” Coon told the audience at the Barn Sunday.
“Based on our own research and recent conversations with the Forest Service, it is our understanding that Blue River Resources would need to undergo a full and formal mineral examination with a Bureau of Land Management mineral examiner before they could proceed with further exploration,” Coon said after the meeting.
Blue River Resources applied in 2013 for a permit to conduct exploratory drilling, and the Methow Valley Ranger District has been conducting environmental studies on the proposal for more than two years.
After the mineral withdrawal was initiated, however, that work is now on hold, said District Ranger Mike Liu.
“At this point I am waiting for a determination that the company has a valid existing right before I proceed,” Liu said this week.
Although commercial mining activities are not permitted on land included in a mineral withdrawal, other activities such as grazing, recreation, timber harvest and hobby mining can continue, Coon said.
In addition to pursuing a mineral withdrawal through federal agencies, Coon said the Methow Headwaters Campaign is continuing to advocate for legislation that could permanently close the land to future mining.
Coon said she expects Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, to reintroduce legislation “in the next few months” called the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, which the senators introduced in May 2016.
Unlike the maximum 20-year withdrawal that could be authorized by federal agencies, legislation passed by Congress can make the mineral withdrawal permanent.
Coon credited the “incredible showing of community support” for the campaign’s success in persuading federal agencies and elected officials to take action to protect land at the headwaters of the Methow River.
The campaign is endorsed by 150 local, regional and national businesses and about 40 nonprofit and civic organizations.
In addition, the campaign is backed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and Yakama Nation, the towns of Twisp and Winthrop, the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, and Gov. Jay Inslee.
Coon said she has been asked how the effort to protect the Methow Headwaters will fare under the new Trump administration.
“We are in deeply uncertain times,” Coon said. “The segregation process is underway … we anticipate some slowing down” that might occur with any new administration, she said.
“Aside from minor delays, we see this process is moving forward and we expect it to do so.”
Environment and economy
The short documentary that premiered Sunday is a new tool in the campaign’s efforts to build support for protecting the upper Methow Valley.
Produced by local filmmakers Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, the 12-minute film focuses on the Methow Valley’s pristine environment, clean water, agriculture, outdoor recreation, and the vital role those elements play in the valley’s tourism and recreation-based economy.
“I live here for the purity of the place,” said Sam Lucy, a farmer and owner of Bluebird Grain Farms. “It all goes back to the water … that’s coming out of the same place this mine proposes to be.”
Lucy was one of several area residents featured in the film who shared their thoughts in a discussion after the documentary was shown.
“This is a soul-grabbing, special place,” said Missy LeDuc, who owns the Mazama Store with her husband, Rick.
“It’s our quality of life, air, water — and in our case the quality of the baguettes,” Rick LeDuc said.
“I keep thinking of collateral damage,” he added, like the “terraces and slag heaps” in places like Butte, Montana and Kellogg, Idaho, where mining ended years ago. “It’s irreparable.”
Michael Marchand, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, said the Colville Tribes have been approached on numerous occasions with requests to mine on tribal land.
But members of the tribes have voted to reject mining, despite the money it would bring in.
“A lot of my people are poor, unemployed. They could use $1 billion,” Marchand said. “But we’re willing to make compromises to protect our environment.”
The film also featured Kevin van Bueren, a fly fishing guide and owner of North Cascades Fly Fishing; Julie Muyllaert, co-owner of Methow Cycle and Sport bike shop; and Bud Hover, a fourth-generation farmer and former director of the Washington Department of Agriculture.
The documentary will be entered in film festivals in Telluride, Colorado, Leavenworth and Bellingham, said Hannah Dewey, spokesperson for the Methow Headwaters Campaign. It will also be shown at events and meetings around the region “to broaden the audience” in support of the Methow Headwaters Campaign, she said.
Dewey said the audience at the Barn Sunday included local residents as well as many visitors to the valley during the Presidents Day weekend.
“It was a really big out-of-town attendance, which was really great,” she said.