The prospect of exploratory mining near Mount St. Helens is an affront to Washingtonians and those who work to preserve our natural spaces. A recent federal decision to allow such exploration should result in a sharp rebuke from congressional representatives.
Early this month, the Bureau of Land Management decided to permit exploratory mining northeast of the mountain on land within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, adjacent to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The plan allows Ascot USA, a subsidiary of a Canadian company, to drill 63 roadside holes measuring 2 to 3 inches in diameter to look for copper, silver, gold and molybdenum.
Ascot holds a mining claim in the upper Green River Valley at Goat Mountain, sharing the rights with the U.S. federal government, and is looking to develop mines in the area. In February, the U.S. Forest Service gave its approval for exploration, an action that Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called “a short-sighted decision that undervalues the important benefits these public spaces offer both to our booming recreation economy and to families who come from near and far to enjoy their beauty.”
According to the governor’s office, Washington’s outdoor recreation industry supports 200,000 jobs and generates more than $20 billion in annual revenue. The Green River Valley represents a small portion of that, but the numbers reflect this state’s deep interest in preserving natural spaces. The valley is popular for horseback riding, camping, hunting and other activities. Equally important, it is near the headwaters of the Green River, which is a state-designated gene bank for winter steelhead and is a candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation.
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In other words, the prospect of mining in the area belies the values held dear by many Washington residents. It also reflects the Trump administration’s oft-demonstrated willingness to risk natural spaces for the benefit of commerce.
According to its website, the Bureau of Land Management’s mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” The bureau also notes its role in commercial interests such as energy development and timber harvesting, which can, indeed, be important to a balanced use of the land.
That balance, however, is out of whack. Under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is facing ethics investigations and has announced he will leave the post at the end of the year, the Trump administration has pursued resource extraction at the expense of natural spaces. Chris Saeger of the Western Values Project has called Zinke’s tenure “a disaster for public lands of historic proportions.”
Zinke’s departure will not be lamented by environmentalists, but it is likely that his replacement will share the view that public lands are for the extraction of revenue. Such a philosophy is anathema to those of us who wish to preserve outdoor spaces for future generations, recognizing that extraction industries forever alter the landscape.
Public lands should be regarded as exactly that – public, for the use of all the people. Allowing mining near the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for the financial benefit of a Canadian company and the U.S. government would not aid in that purpose.