It’s been a long haul.
February 2013 — six years ago — was the beginning of the extended saga of how pristine public lands in the upper Methow Valley came to be on the verge of a permanent commercial mining ban.
That’s when a Canadian mining company calling itself Blue River Resources Ltd. acquired an option to “earn a 100 percent interest in the Mazama Project,” a potential copper mining venture according to the company website, as reported in an April 2014 Methow Valley News article.
The U.S. Forest Service was subsequently contacted by Blue River, which initially proposed to conduct exploratory drilling on Forest Service land in a search for copper on Flagg Mountain near Mazama, with the intention of beginning in August 2014.
We say “calling itself” because, to this day, Blue River Resources remains an enigma, even rumored by some to be a shell company set up only to sell penny stock in a putative copper mining venture, then take the price run-up profits and vanish.
We and others have tried to find out more about the company, contact its representatives, flesh out its structure and motives — to little avail. Blue River remains a spectral boogeyman, about to be banished back to B.C. forever.
I remember an early public meeting, when the overwhelming community animus for the copper mining proposal was becoming evident, at which some representatives of Blue River huddled at the back of the Winthrop Barn, looking nervous. We never saw anyone from Blue River again, unless they were operating clandestinely.
The local uproar against the disturbing idea of a copper mine above Mazama began to gain volume in early 2014, when the long, tedious process of fighting the proposal kicked in with full intent. In that April 2014 News article, we reported that “Mazama businessman Bill Pope, owner of the Mazama Country Inn, was gathering information about the project this week. “I’m trying to raise the alarms to get people to be curious about this and hopefully submit comments on this,” Pope said. “Is this really how you imagine the Methow Valley? An open pit copper mine in the middle of the prime recreational and wildlife habitat in the valley is the worst thing I can imagine.”
Alarms were raised, and lots of people agreed. Opposition coalesced steadily from that point, notably with the formation three years ago of the nonprofit Methow Headwaters Campaign to strategize and carry out efforts to delay or permanently prohibit mining in what was eventually designated as more than 340,000 acres of Forest Service land.
“If they [Blue River] do decide that they want to mine, then it would be a long process” involving far more extensive environmental review, Jennifer Zbyszewski, then recreation, wilderness and minerals program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District, said in 2014.
Long process indeed. But the Methow is used to long processes and doing whatever it takes to follow them through to the end.
I’m not sure it’s possible to calculate all the person-hours that have been invested the anti-mining effort since then. All that effort and expense — and it was considerable — came to fruition last week when the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that includes the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, which provides permanent protection from mining for the Headwaters area. The Natural Resources Management Act, co-sponsored by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, encompassed more than 110 other bills dealing with public lands, natural resources and water. It is expected to have widespread support in the House as well.
The Methow Headwaters Campaign labored tirelessly to promote the protection act, which had been twice introduced as a separate bill by Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray. Separately, the Headwaters Campaign proceeded just as aggressively on an administrative track by lobbying hard for a “mineral withdrawal” action by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The withdrawal would have imposed a 20-year moratorium on mining in the upper Methow Valley. It was pretty much universally supported by businesses, organizations and individuals in the Methow Valley, as well as by local politicians.
The withdrawal was also recommended by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned at the end of last year before signing off on the proposed action. The Natural Resources Management Act was a nice back-up plan, I think we’d all agree.
Saving the headwaters from mining was a remarkably self-sustaining community effort, of which the Methow Valley should be proud. Our commonality of interests is what drives the passion to preserve this amazing place, and to proudly share it with the world.