By Ryan Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Ryan is the Program Director for the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a conservation non-profit dedicated to the protection and restoration of forest ecosystems in Southwest Washington.
The Mount St. Helens area is nationally recognized for its unique and significant recreational, scientific, and ecological features. A mining company out of Spokane, Washington, however, is proposing a 3,000 acre mine in the area that would harm this unique treasure in our own backyard.
Idaho General Mines, Inc. is seeking a lease from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to land in the Green River valley below Goat Mountain, which lies just north and east of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. IGMI's President has stated that they hope to mine the site to extract copper, gold, molybdenum, and silver.
Much of the land the company wants to lease was purchased in 1986 by the Forest Service from the Trust for Public Lands using Land and Water Conservation Funds. These funds were intended by Congress to be used to purchase lands for recreation and conservation, not for mining.
The area under consideration for a lease also enters the Tumwater Inventoried Roadless Area, which would have been protected from this mining proposal by President Clinton's 2001 Roadless Rule had President Bush not backtracked on the popular policy.
Mine development at Goat Mountain could have enormous impacts on the threatened salmon and steelhead runs in the Green River, the drinking water supplies of Kelso, Longview, and Castle Rock, old growth forest habitat, and numerous recreation destinations.
Fish runs of the Green River could be devastated by a chemical process resulting from mining activity, known as acid mine drainage, that would leach sulfuric acid and other toxic substances into surrounding water bodies. Once this chemical process begins, it is nearly impossible to manage and it could persist for thousands of years.
At the Summitville gold mine in southern Colorado, for example, a bankrupt Canadian company has left the nation's most costly mine cleanup. It will take 100 years and cost $235 million to clean up the release of cyanide and acid mine drainage that has left 17 miles of the Alamosa River devoid of fish and other aquatic life. The Alamosa is also a water source for irrigated crops downstream. The abandoned mine is now a Superfund site. The company mined a total of $130 million worth of metals at Summitville and the mine was permitted as a 'zero discharge' mine.
Moreover, a dam that would need to be constructed to hold back stored waste material could fail in the seismically active region, releasing in a flash tons of toxic substances into the Green River. At least 20 miles of new road construction could also add smothering sediment to streams and rivers.
Any toxic substances released into the Green River would eventually flow down stream to the Cowlitz River where it could have serious implications for the drinking water supplies of communities such as Kelso, Longview, and Castle Rock. Agricultural water users would have to cope with contaminated water supplies as well.
Developing a mine in the Green River valley would also impact recreation destinations such as hiking trails, popular lakes, and the Green River Horse Camp, a popular destination for backcountry horse enthusiasts.
Mine development could in fact penetrate so deep underground that it impacts the ground water, altering the hydrology of the area in such a way so as to potentially dewater streams and popular lakes in the area.
If Idaho General Mines is successful in obtaining a lease from federal agencies, it could be the crucial first step they need to develop the mine at Goat Mountain. Fortunately, we've learned about their proposal early in the process and have a real opportunity to stop it. But we can't do it without your help.
Please take a moment and write a letter to these decision makers at the BLM and Forest Service asking them not to grant Idaho General Mines a lease. Mine development would be too costly to vulnerable fish runs, drinking water supplies, popular recreation areas, and wildlife.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest
10600 NE 51st Circle
Vancouver, WA 98682
Chief of Lands & Mineral Resources
BLM Oregon State Office
333 SW 1st Avenue
Portland, OR 97204