By David Gottula
Nearly one year ago, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) launched a two-year timeout for any new large-scale mine development on key National Forest land in the headwaters of the Methow River. This action was the culmination of many months of hard work by our Methow Valley community to make the case for an action known as a “mineral withdrawal.”
The two-year period gives the U.S. Forest Service and BLM time to take the required steps to finalizing a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior for a 20-year withdrawal of this area from industrial mineral extraction.
The announcement of a mineral withdrawal recognized the unified and bi-partisan support in our community for protecting this special place from industrial mining. Businesses, tribes, civic leaders and organizations and individual community members banded together to work for protection of our precious lands, waters and the economy that is supported by these vital natural assets.
This effort matters to me personally because I witnessed first-hand, when I worked in New Mexico, the results copper mining had on the land. In the interest of full disclosure, I supported these mines at that time. But while copper and its associated mining is needed in our society, the Methow is not a place for this activity. I’m sure my feelings are echoed by both community members and lovers of the Methow Valley across the state and country who appreciate this incredible and unique place.
The case for withdrawal and protection of the headwaters from large-scale mining is clear:
• Water — everything in our valley depends on our water — streams, rivers and the valley’s aquifer are deeply connected and support wildlife, fish and fishing, farming, ranching, recreation and drinking water.
• Fish — hundreds of millions of dollars, mainly from electric power customers, have been spent to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat in support of the Methow Valley and the Greater Columbia River system. This includes significant investment in supporting endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
• Unique landscape and unparalleled biodiversity — our valley and the headwaters are a unique convergence of geography and elevation that provide diverse habitat, seasonal snowpack, and clean, cold water. These resilient lands are becoming increasingly rare and important in the face the growing impacts of climate change.
• Economy — The Methow Valley is a world-class destination for all forms of outdoor recreation, scenic tourism and the simple enjoyment of local rural communities and their amenities. Our diverse landscape, water resources, snow, and fish and wildlife attract residents and guests alike, and provide the foundation for our local economy.
That’s why it’s so important the mineral withdrawal be finalized. Very important steps must still be completed. The Forest Service is moving ahead on an assessment of the 20-year withdrawal, with completion targeted for the spring. Their efforts to keep the process moving are important and appreciated.
The process also requires that the BLM conduct a public input meeting. This is typically done within 90 days of the agency making notification of the withdrawal application. With the one-year mark of that announcement rapidly approaching, it is imperative the BLM quickly schedule this meeting.
Last year’s action by the Department of Interior, the BLM and the Forest Service to initiate the withdrawal provided immediate protection for our beloved headwaters and created the opportunity to achieve long-term protection.
We all have a role to play. A public meeting is an essential step and must happen in a timely way so the withdrawal process can be finalized. This will ensure our voices are heard as to why the withdrawal is critical to the future of our valley, our way of life and our economy.
David Gottula is president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and general manager of the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative.