Senate Passes Cantwell, Murray Bill to Protect Methow Valley Headwaters from Mining

Legislation prohibits mining on 340,000 acres of existing federal lands, protecting critical streams, creeks, and wildlife

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the former ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA) to protect the Methow Valley watershed from mining. The Methow Headwaters Protection Act, which passed as part of the Senate’s broad public lands package, will protect 340,000 acres of national forest in the Methow Valley from potential development of a large-scale mine. 

“Whether for farming, fishing, or recreating outdoors, clean water plays a central role in the outdoor economy of the Methow Valley. We can’t let destructive mining put that at risk,” said Senator Cantwell. “This legislation is a win for the valley, and I will continue fighting to preserve and protect it for generations to come.”

“Anyone who has had the good fortune of visiting or living in the Methow Valley knows the headwaters are a priceless resource and certainly worthy of protection,” said Senator Murray. “I commend the local community for rallying to safeguard this pristine area and I look forward to doing whatever I can to push this legislation through the House and get these protections signed into law once and for all.”

The legislation permanently removes areas within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from mining activities, including exploration or development.  As such, the bill will protect the headwaters of the Methow River, which provides clean water to downstream communities and supports local tourism, critical salmon restoration, as well as ranching and farming activities.

“We are deeply appreciative that the Senate has acted in support of our community and all that makes the Methow Valley a special place. There are many areas where mining is appropriate, but the Methow Headwaters is not such a place,” said Maggie Coon of the Methow Headwaters Campaign. “We are grateful for the continued leadership of Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in championing this effort to protect the economy, local jobs, wildlife, and the quality of life in the Methow Valley.”

“The Methow Valley is defined by its scenic beauty, clean flowing rivers, abundant public land and the agricultural way of life which shapes its rural character. Protecting the Methow Headwaters has been supported broadly across our community as an investment in the future for this western mountain valley where conservation is deeply woven into our local economy and culture,” said Jason Paulsen, Executive Director of the Methow Conservancy. “Senators Cantwell and Murray understand that this gateway to North Cascades National Park is no place for an industrial scale open-pit copper mine.  Senator Cantwell’s leadership on the Energy Committee to advance the Methow Headwaters legislation was critical to getting this bill passed as part of the Public Lands Bill. The hard work and determination by our senators is appreciated by all who call the Methow Valley their home, and by those for whom it is the home of their heart."

Nearly one million tourists visit the Methow Valley each year to enjoy its sun, snow, streams, wildlife, and rural communities, contributing more than $150 million annually to Okanogan County’s economy. The Upper Methow is essential to salmon recovery, and more than $100 million has been invested in restoration and conservation efforts in the Methow Valley alone. Federal, state, local, and private investments have gone to land protection and restoration projects across the Methow River watershed, supporting outdoor recreation, farmland preservation, and salmon and wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration activities.

The Upper Methow Valley is home to seven federally-protected fish and wildlife species, including the Northern spotted owl, grizzly bear, Canada lynx, spring Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Healthy and intact habitat is also home to bald and golden eagles, martens, mountain goats, mule and white-tailed deer, and wolves.

The legislation now moves on to the House of Representatives, which is expected to quickly pass it and send it to the president’s desk.

A one-pager with more information on the Senate’s public lands package is available HERE.