Methow Headwaters critical to hunting, fishing and our economy
By Patrick Button
As deer season winds down for most of us, I hope that all of you were successful, whether that success was measured by harvesting a nice buck or by simply sharing the pursuit with friends and family in this amazing landscape. Regardless, I’m positive most of you are already looking forward to next season. The Methow is well known for its high buck ratio and beautiful mule deer that it consistently produces due to a combination of factors in this diverse environment — a place that is incredibly resilient and fragile at the same time.
On the east side, rivers and creeks of the Methow headwaters make their way into the Methow River and then beyond to the Columbia. This uninterrupted landscape, and the cold, clean water of the headwaters provide vital water to the Methow Valley that supports our wildlife, communities, local agriculture and many recreational pursuits, including hunting and fishing.
Hunters and anglers are conservationists at heart. Ensuring that these productive hunting grounds will be sustainable for future generations of hunters is becoming more difficult. Looking at the peaks above the Methow Valley, all appears scenic and unspoiled. But these lands face ongoing threats that are common across the Western United States, including drought, fire, the impacts of increasingly extreme weather, and more.
But there is another threat, and one that we can address now — protecting these lands and their critical habitat from the threat of industrial-scale mining. Over the years efforts were made to pursue large-scale mining activity in the Methow headwaters. The most recent proposal mobilized the Methow Valley community in support of protecting the headwaters and resulted in a recent recommendation by the U.S. Forest Service to make the area off limits to large-scale mining for 20 years.
Protecting these lands is especially important as someone who calls this place home and has enjoyed hunting and fishing in the Methow Valley and its headwaters for my entire life. The lands within the headwaters are home to a great diversity of wildlife, including the state’s largest mule deer population. The lands also provide a critical mule deer migration corridor from the high country to valley’s wintering grounds. In addition to the direct loss of habitat that large-scale mines can represent, having such activity intrude into the critical migration corridors is an unacceptable threat to the area’s wildlife.
While I eagerly look forward to heading out on opening day of every hunting season or casting a line in the Methow river, protecting these lands is about more than personal enjoyment. Hunting and fishing are an important part of the valley’s economy. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that hunters contribute more than $40 million into eastern Washington’s local economies. That’s a part of the $150 million that is spent overall on recreation in the county.
The headwaters and their clean, cold water also support important populations of wild steelhead, Chinook, and cutthroat and bull trout. The habitat of the rivers and creeks in the area are critical for the continued survival of these fish, and for supporting the contribution fishing makes to the local economy.
Those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing recognize that the health of our activities and local economy is directly linked to the quality of our valley’s lands and waters. So too does Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently issued a secretarial order instructing his agency to work with several states, including Washington, to improve and enhance big game winter range and migration corridors and habitat. Protecting the Methow headwaters would contribute toward this important goal.
Too important to mine
Supporting the headwaters withdrawal isn’t about being against mining. There is a long heritage of mining in the county and the reason our towns were settled. But there are some places too important and too valuable to face the possibility of industrial mining.
That’s why the hunting community has been vocal and engaged in this matter, and several organizations representing hunting, fishing and wildlife have all signed on in support of the withdrawal.
The Methow community, and those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing, have an opportunity to protect our lands, our waters, our local economy, and the activities we love by letting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) know that we support the 20-year Methow headwaters mineral withdrawal. Please send your comment in support of the withdrawal by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail at Methow Headwaters Comment, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208-2965
And please attend a very important public meeting hosted by the BLM at the Winthrop Barn on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. to show your support. It’s never been more important to make sure our voices are heard.
Patrick Button was born and raised in Twisp. After graduating from Liberty Bell High School, he continued his education at University of Washington studying forestry. He worked as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, for the Methow Valley Ranger District and North Cascades Smokejumpers, for a little over 11 years. He works for the City of Seattle as a structural firefighter and lives with his wife and daughter in Cashmere.