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Mining Plan Threatens a Mount St. Helens River

04.21.17

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Mining Plan Threatens a Mount St. Helens River

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In the heart of Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest and in the intermediate forest north of the Mount St. Helens blast zone, a pristine waterway will soon be lost if current mining plans are allowed to continue. Canadian mining company Ascot Resources, Ltd., is close to receiving the permits it needs to begin exploratory mining at the upper extent of the Green River watershed. This watershed runs through Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and continues its westward course to the Toutle River, ultimately providing drinking water to the communities on its path that include the towns of Castle Rock and Kelso, Washington.

As far as mountains go, Mount St. Helens may be one of the most recognizable in the United States. It is the only major eruption to happen in the continental U.S. in our lifetime, and it is also the deadliest and most damaging blast in the country's history. This makes the relatively hidden nature north of the mountain that much more amazing. A few beloved and rugged trails wind their way around the backcountry of the monument. Wildflower meadows frame views of the growing crater within the volcano and Spirit Lake below, which is still chock-full of trees blown into it when the mountain erupted.

The Green River is not well suited for a strip mine, but with a Department of Interior with a renewed mandate to fast track mining and mineral development proposals, getting the green light to exploratory mine is a serious possibility. Beyond the natural beauty and habitat this area of river provides, there are many other reasons why, if this permit is approved, it will be a slap in the face to years of efforts to protect this important river. For one, this very land was added to Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1986 through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a fund that uses royalties from oil and gas companies to offset their impacts on public lands to promote conservation and recreation projects. 

The Green River itself is proposed for designation as a Wild and Scenic River, and it also serves as steelhead sanctuary and a state-designated Wild Steelhead Gene Bank due to the healthy steelhead runs that use the river. Strip mining would destroy the pristine quality of the waterway and turn away the dedicated hunters and anglers, as well as hikers and horseback riders, who visit the river every year.

These are a few of the reasons cited by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, in a letter to the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, opposing the issuance of the exploratory permit. "Condoning exploratory drilling and hardrock mining on LWCF-acquired lands would set a terrible precedent and jeopardize national treasures that were offered to the Forest Service by willing sellers so that the land could be conserved and enjoyed by the public," writes Senator Cantwell in her letter. As land purchased through the LWCF, the BLM must also get approval from the Forest Service to issue the needed permits, providing an opportunity to voice concerns to both land management agencies. David Moryc, Senior Director of Wild and Scenic Rivers and Public Lands at American Rivers, agrees. Given everything the connected and revitalizing areas has going in its favor, he says, "There are few places that could be a worse location for a mine."

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and haven't yet seen this area for yourself, this is a great time to make it a priority. At just over 3.5 hours from Seattle and just over 2.5 hours from Portland, the Norway Pass Trailhead that serves the east side of Mount St. Helens provides a glimpse into the stakes of this mining proposition. Incredible adventures such as Whittier Ridge, Mount Margaret, and the Mount Margaret Backcountry Lakes are multi-day objectives in a stunning landscape. The Green River area north of the mountain uses some of the same access roads as this more popular area, so anyone used to visiting the Norway Pass Trailhead would have to get used to mining traffic along the road should plans progress. 

A coalition of forces, including American Rivers and the Cascade Forest Conservancy, are taking a lead in organizing grassroots support to protect the Green River. ​American Rivers recently added the Green River to its annual report of America's Most Endangered Rivers, and it notes that exploratory drilling here "would completely destroy Goat Mountain, including a treasured recreational trail with remarkable views of Mount Saint Helens, and likely pollute the Green River with toxic drilling additives or acid mine drainage." Now is the time to get involved and voice your opposition to mining in this special environment. American Rivers has dedicated a page to facilitate public action on this topic, and you can also contact Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; let them know that you oppose mining in any form in this pristine area.

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