Methow Headwaters Campaign Launches

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Protection of Lands Targeted for Possible Industrial-Scale Mine Sought

Methow Headwaters Campaign

There is strong support for the withdrawal, especially among the business community.

Business and civic leaders held a Valentine’s Day rally to show their love for the Methow Valley and to call on the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service to ensure that lands located near the town of Mazama, and in the Methow River’s headwaters, be placed off-limits to industrial-scale copper mining.

In launching the Methow Headwaters Campaign, rally leaders announced that 90 area businesses have signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell, requesting they initiate a “mineral withdrawal” of lands in the Methow River’s headwaters. The Secretary has the authority to use the withdrawal process to prevent establishment of new mining claims for up to 20 years.

According to the Methow Headwaters Campaign, a Canadian company, Blue River Resources, Ltd., is pursuing approval from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to conduct exploratory drilling at sites around Flagg Mountain, which is near the town of Mazama. The campaign is concerned such drilling could be used to try to validate old mining claims and could open the door to future development of a significant mining operation in the fragile headwaters. Permission to move ahead is expected by the Forest Service early in 2016, with exploratory drilling beginning as early as August.

“Despite nearly unanimous public comments opposing the proposal, the Forest Service is likely to approve exploratory drilling by Blue River Resources because outdated federal laws leave the agency with limited choice at this point,” said Bill Pope, co-owner of the Mazama Country Inn. “A mineral withdrawal is the only opportunity to stop mining on Flagg Mountain and make the Methow Headwaters safe from future large-scale mining. There is strong support for the withdrawal, especially among the business community, which sees the proposal as a serious threat to the valley’s unique character and economy.”

Mining in the U.S. is guided by the nearly 150-year-old General Mining Law of 1872, which provides that mining can take precedence over other uses of federal lands. While under the law it is possible for land management agencies to set requirements as to how mines are developed and reclaimed, short of the withdrawal process, there are few ways to prevent the development of a new mine once a valid mining claim is established, according to the campaign.

Secretarial action on a mineral withdrawal would bring a halt to new claim exploration and development until the withdrawal process is complete and the validity of claims determined. The process can take up to two years. Once withdrawn, no new exploration or mining claims could be pursued for up to 20 years. The withdrawal would not affect existing valid claims in the area or other existing use of Forest Service lands, such as grazing, recreational activities, and low-intensity recreational “hobby mining.”

The Methow Headwaters Campaign is proposing that the Department of Interior withdraw about 340,000 acres of National Forest in the Methow River Headwaters, primarily north and west of the towns of Mazama and Winthrop. The Campaign identified this area for withdrawal in order to encompass the full extent of any copper that might lead to an industrial-scale mine on the lands and to protect critical streams and creeks that are the core of the Methow Headwaters.

The Methow Headwaters Campaign says that nearly one million visitors come to the Methow Valley annually to enjoy the sun, snow, streams, wildlife and rural community, and they inject more than $150 million annually into Okanogan County’s economy. It notes the upper Methow is also critical to salmon recovery, and more than $100 million has been invested in restoration and conservation efforts in the Methow Valley alone. Additionally, fragile and interconnected streams support recreation, agriculture, ranching and wildlife throughout Okanogan County.

The Methow Valley is recognized by the National Forest Foundation as one of 14 treasured landscapes in which the organization is working with local communities to restore and build ecologically resilient landscapes. It is located in the midst of some of the Northwest’s most spectacular and iconic lands, including the adjacent North Cascades National Park, Pasayten Wilderness and the North Cascades Scenic Highway, which looks toward the proposed mine site as travelers enter the valley from the west.

In announcing its support for a withdrawal plan to prevent industrial-scale mining, campaign supporters expressed concerns over the immediate and long-term impacts such a mine is likely to produce, including ongoing heavy truck traffic, drilling and blasting, operating facilities, diminishment of views, impacts to water resources and the disturbance of wildlife and its habitat. There is also worry that oversight of the mine will divert limited Forest Service resources away from ongoing work to protect the local economy and other values in the Methow Valley, especially in the wake of devastating wildfire seasons. In a watershed with more than 1.1 million acres of National Forest land—85 percent of the land base—land management is a paramount concern.

“The Methow Valley is both an ecologically and sociologically diverse place. Our community benefits from visionaries who’ve worked tirelessly to keep this countryside intact in ways that support tourism, outdoor recreation, agriculture and real estate,” said Sam Lucy, owner of Blue Bird Grains Farm. “We enjoy a solid economy and its resilience is built on the value of clean air and water. A large-scale mine in the Methow Headwaters would detract from this sustainability, which is why this withdrawal is so important.”

More information about the campaign and a list of supporters is all available the campaign's website.

About the Methow Headwaters Campaign
The Methow Headwaters Campaign brings together local Valley businesses and area residents, civic leaders and organizations concerned about the threat an industrial-scale copper mine poses to the region’s economy, waters and rural character. The campaign’s goal is to build awareness and support to make the Methow River Headwaters “off-limits” to large-scale mining through a “mineral withdrawal” by the Secretary of Interior and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

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