Editorial: In Our View: Seek Minerals Elsewhere

By:  Editorial Board
Source: The Columbian

As anybody who has lived in these parts for a while is aware, the area surrounding Mount St. Helens is unique.

Since the cataclysmic eruption of May 18, 1980, the region has provided a notable laboratory for examining the restorative power of nature. What once was reduced to barren wasteland of downed trees and slurry-covered acres has been regenerated into forests and meadows and wildlife habitat. It has become a compelling petri dish for scientists and tourists from throughout the world.

This invaluable and irreplaceable region must be preserved while allowing nature to run its course. Because of that, a proposal to explore a mining operation in the area should be opposed using all legal and regulatory measures. The plan by Canadian mining company Ascot Resources to do exploratory drilling in the region should be rejected.

Ascot has renewed efforts to secure a permit to search for copper, silver, gold and other minerals in the Goat Mountain region, just north of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument near the headwaters of the Green River. The area in question is on land purchased by the federal government through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it rests within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In a letter to U.S. Forest Service officials, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., this week wrote: “Given the incompatibility of this project with the primary purposes for which the lands were acquired and the broader negative implications, I respectfully request that you refrain from providing consent for prospecting permits for the Goat Mountain Project.”

To be clear, there are no restrictions on mining in the area. But in 2014 a U.S. District Court Judge in Oregon ruled that federal approval of the plan had been inadequate and that it stood in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. This year, Ascot officials renewed pursuit of a permit for exploratory drilling and rekindled debate over the project, drawing opposition from environmental groups, as well as Washington’s other senator, Democrat Patty Murray.

Ascot officials note that their effort relates only to preliminary drilling and not to the development of a full-scale mine, which would require an additional permitting process, but the issues are impossible to separate. As The Columbian has written editorially: “Who in their right mind believes the mining company wants to explore for any purpose other than mining?”

The argument in favor of allowing the exploration suggests that development of a mine would generate jobs and revenue. The federal government owns half of the underground minerals at the site, while Ascot can lay claim to the other half. Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, said: “Part of what we’re looking at is whether or not it’s in the public’s interest to get at that 50 percent of the public’s piece.”

What officials should be looking at, however, is whether it is in the public’s interest to preserve an important ecological treasure. To quote again from a previous editorial: “No one suggests that the area around the volcano is the only source of gold, copper or other elements. Let the pursuit of those minerals proceed where sensitive natural recovery in a fragile environment is not put at risk.”

The area surrounding Mount St. Helens is, indeed, fragile. It also is unique and important while holding a special place for residents of Southwest Washington. Any mining operation in the region would jeopardize those wondrous qualities.