WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bill to protect the Methow headwaters area near Mazama has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., have introduced S. 566, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act of 2017, to protect 340,000 acres of national forest from potential development of a large-scale mine.
The legislation would withdraw from mineral entry any deposits that could lead to an industrial-scale mine on the lands. Doing so would protect the headwaters of the Methow River, the senators said.
The Methow Valley supports a robust local tourism economy, water resources, farming, ranching and rural communities.
“Water is the lifeblood of the economy in the Methow Valley. With so many salmon, farmers and outdoor recreationists dependent on clean water, we can’t risk opening the area to copper mining,” Cantwell said. “I urge my colleagues to respect the local community’s wishes and protect this area.”
In December, then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell segregated the area for two years, with concurrence from the Forest Service, while the agencies consider a longer-term, 20-year withdrawal, said Rosemarie Calabro Tully, spokeswoman for the Senate Energy Committee. A segregation is similar to a withdrawal, but shorter in time.
A yet-to-be scheduled public meeting on Jewell’s action is planned in the Methow, along with an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, she said.
“This action was taken in support of the senators’ bill, which would establish a permanent withdrawal,” Tully said. “We need legislation because an administrative withdrawal can only be temporary. You need an act of Congress to make it permanent.”
“No matter what the political climate in Congress is, it’s critical that we keep fighting to preserve and protect the Methow Valley watershed for future generations,” Murray said. “I am proud to work hand-in-hand with the local community and Sen. Cantwell to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the Methow Valley from destructive mining operations that could endanger everything from the recreational economy to salmon recovery efforts.”
Methow Headwaters Campaign, a group formed to oppose a proposed mine in the area, applauded introduction of Cantwell and Murray’s bill.
The senators originally introduced the legislation last year. Reintroduction in the new Congress “continues the senators’ commitment to ensuring that the waters, working landscapes and recreational economy of the Methow Valley are protected from impacts of industrial-scale mining,” the campaign group said.
Methow Headwaters Campaign involves 135 businesses, organizations and community groups, civic leaders, tribes, town councils and more than 2,000 individuals, the group said.
“Large-scale mine development in the Methow headwaters is in direct conflict with the qualities that underpin the valley’s successful and sustainable economy,” said Winthrop Chamber of Commerce President David Gottula. “The mineral withdrawal helps protect the qualities that make this area special and successful while a permanent solution to protect this landscape can be pursued.
The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, and Twisp and Winthrop town councils all have passed resolutions in support of withdrawing the land from the possibility of mineral mining.
Methow Headwaters Campaign was launched in February 2016 in response to plans by a Canadian company, Blue River Resources Ltd., to conduct exploratory drilling in the mountains near Mazama.