The Cascade Forest Conservancy monitors mining proposals within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and opposes projects that risk watershed contamination. For the last decade we have opposed the development of a hardrock mine on the Green River near Mount St. Helens. We are also actively working to reform suction dredge mining regulations in Washington, which currently allow this practice without any permits or accountability.
Since 2005, the Cascade Forest Conservancy and our partners have been working to protect the Green River valley, near Mount St. Helens, from industrial-scale hard rock mining. A Canadian mining company, Ascot Resources Ltd., is seeking permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper, gold, and molybdenum. Exploratory drilling to locate mineral deposits and determine commercial viability is an essential step in the development of a hardrock mine.
In 2005, General Moly Inc. (formerly Idaho General Mines, Inc.) submitted an application for a hardrock mining lease. Since then we have stopped multiple attempts by mining companies to mine near Mount St Helens. In late 2014 we defeated another attempt by Ascot Resources Limited to conduct exploratory drilling when a judge declared the prospecting permits illegal. Despite our recent legal win, Ascot Resources is once again seeking federal approval for mining exploration in the area.
In 2015 Ascot Resources began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to improve their permit application and prepare a modified Environmental Assessment (EA) for exploratory drilling. The Modified EA was released in January 2016, and the BLM and Forest Service closed the comment period for the Modified EA for the exploratory drilling permits on March 19, 2016. A decision by BLM and the Forest Service on the permits is expected shortly.
Mining exploration and development could harm threatened salmon and steelhead populations in the Green River, interfere with recreation opportunities in the area, and threaten drinking water supplies for downstream communities. The unique, remote, and beautiful Green River valley was acquired by the Forest Service with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, money designated to promote conservation and recreation to the public. This will be the fourth time that the mining industry has tried to mine in this area. We have stopped them three times, and we plan to do so again. It is critical that we remain vigilant to protect the Green River valley and Mount St. Helens from future mining attempts. You can help!
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The rivers of Washington are valued for their scenic beauty, pristine water quality, exceptional recreational opportunities, and as important fish habitat. Some of these rivers are critical habitat for fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including steelhead, salmon, and bull trout. Every year, Washington invests hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on salmon and steelhead recovery. These recovery efforts can be destroyed by suction dredge mining, a type of recreational mining that uses a suction dredge pump and hose to vacuum up the sediments on the river bottom to search for gold. The sediment is released in a plume, along with the toxic metals that were once settled in the sediment. The release of toxic metals from the sediment increases the risk of exposure to fish. Suction dredge mining also impacts fish habitat by releasing sediment into the water, and destroying redds (spawning nests) and refugia.
The laws governing suction dredge mining leave the practice relatively unregulated in Washington, especially when compared to neighboring states. The current laws allow suction dredge mining on rivers throughout the state, including on rivers that are closed to fishing to protect endangered and
threatened fish populations. To mine with a suction dredge, an operator only needs a copy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Gold and Fish pamphlet, which acts as a general permit. The Gold and Fish pamphlet outlines time frames for rivers throughout Washington when suction dredge mining is allowed. However, suction dredge mining may occur outside these time frames if the miner receives a separate permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also, the time frames for suction dredge mining established in the Gold and Fish pamphlet allows suction dredge mining in some river sections during spawning, risking the survival of federally-listed fish.
Continuing to allow suction dredge mining under the current regulations poses a serious risk to fish populations and water quality throughout Washington. In 2014, the Cascade Forest Conservancy began working with the Fish Not Gold coalition to address the harmful impacts of suction dredge mining in Washington. In 2017, HB 1106 and HB 1077 were introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. In January we testified in support of these bills that would require individual permits and move Washington toward compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. We continue to advocate for suction dredge mining reform in Washington that requires individual permits, licensing fees, and enhanced protections for endangered and threatened fish populations.