The Forest Service is backing an effort to prevent new mining development in the upper Methow Valley, a popular tourist destination and an area targeted for salmon recovery.
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter this week to U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, expressing support for the Methow Headwaters Protection Act.
The act would withdraw about 340,000 acres on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from large-scale mining development. Past exploration has identified copper deposits near the town of Mazama in northcentral Washington. The current owner of mining claims, Blue River Resources, wants to drill exploratory holes.
More than $100 million has been spent on salmon recovery efforts in the upper Methow Valley, according to Murray’s office. The area is home to spring chinook salmon and other federally protected fish and wildlife species, including grizzly bears, Canada lynx, steelhead, bull trout and Northern spotted owls.
Nearly 1 million tourists visit the Methow Valley each year for outdoor recreation, such as skiing, fishing and hiking. They contribute about $150 million annually to Okanogan County, Murray’s office said.
Vilsack’s letter said he believes a “mineral withdrawal” is the best way to protect the ecological and economic significance of the Methow Valley to the surrounding communities.
Withdrawal applications take at least a year to complete and are subject to federal review. Mining claims for valuable ore deposits sometimes have pre-existing rights that allow projects to go forward even after a withdrawal, Vilsack wrote.
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