Good News for Climbing in Mazama, Washington

The Methow Headwaters is home to some of the most outstanding climbing and mountaineering in Washington state, including the sport climbs up the Chewack River, the massive multi-pitch climbing on the Goat Wall, alpine rock climbing and glacier mountaineering around the Silver Star Massif, cragging near Robinson Creek, and mountaineering and long alpine rock climbs along the Pacific Crest Trail.

In 2014, this spectacular region of Washington was threatened when a mining company filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Goat Peak at the north end of the Methow Valley. This kind of exploratory drilling is the first step to developing a large-scale mine that would devastate the upper Methow region. Under the antiquated 1872 mining law, federal land agencies must entertain these proposals.

After targeted advocacy efforts by the Methow Headwaters Campaign, a coalition of local businesses and nonprofit organizations including Access Fund, on December 30, 2016 the Department of Interior (DOI) approved a two-year “timeout” for mining the Methow Headwaters. This timeout gives Congress time to pass legislation that will permanently protect the area. The Access Fund applauds this first step in providing protection to the Methow Headwaters area from the impacts of industrial mining.

In addition to targeted advocacy to the DOI, Access Fund is working with the coalition to pass a bill—The Methow Headwaters Protection Act of 2016—in Congress that would permanently withdrawal 340,000 acres of National Forest lands in and around the Methow Headwaters and prevent future mining including the prospect of a large-scale copper mine on Goat Peak. While this action prohibits the location of new mining claims, it does not prohibit ongoing or future mining exploration or extraction operations on valid pre-existing mining claims, nor does it prohibit any other authorized uses on these lands.

Importantly, the DOI’s “timeout” action also proposes a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal of the area at the conclusion of two years, a safeguard in case Congressional legislation does not occur. This is a very important addition given the potential for Congressional gridlock and the necessity to permanently protect this area and preserve it in its existing condition.

Protection of Methow Headwaters from mining is widely supported by the recreation and conservation communities, local businesses, elected officials, downstream ranchers and farmers, and residents throughout the area.

Stay tuned for further action to submit comments during the 90-day public comment period to encourage protection through Congressional legislation or administrative action.