Methow Headwaters clears one more hurdle toward mining protections

Methow Headwaters. Photo by Hannah Dewey.

By Crystal Elliot-Perez

Among the the wildest and most pristine places in the lower 48, the 340,000-acre Methow Headwaters landscape in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is now one step closer to being protected from large-scale mining. This is thanks to a recommendation by the U.S. Forest Service late last month for a 20-year mineral withdraw for the Methow Valley, which would protect 340,000 acres from large-scale mining for two decades while Congress considers legislation to permanently protect the region.

Due to the area’s importance for salmon, steelhead and trout, Trout Unlimited has been one in a chorus of voices, led by the Methow Headwaters Campaign, demanding protection for a place in Washington State that is simply too special to mine.

Photo by Hannah Dewey

Like many victories celebrated by Trout Unlimited and our partners, this milestone is in part thanks to our members and fellow anglers working together to contact our electeds, paired with strong advocacy in D.C. by our Government Affairs Team and supporting staff. Together, we worked to ensure decision-makers heard clearly the importance of protections for this region.

We’re grateful that Congressman Dan Newhouse and Senators Cantwell and Murray, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, listened and made this important first step.  

Why have we worked so hard?

The Methow River watershed provides key habitat for three threatened or endangered fish species: Upper Columbia spring Chinook, Upper Columbia steelhead trout, and bull trout. Salmon and steelhead must travel over 500 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River and navigate 9 dams to reach their spawning grounds in the Methow River and its tributaries.    

Large-scale mining in the headwaters of the Methow River watershed poses a serious threat to these fish species that are already on the brink of extinction and the decades’ worth of recovery efforts, and hundreds of millions of dollars, we’ve invested in saving them.   

Photo by Hannah Dewey

What’s next?

Trout Unlimited will continue working with our partners to ensure defenses for this critical region for Washington’s salmon and steelhead populations are finalized and support fishing opportunities for generations to come.

As with many of our conservation efforts, there is more work to be done. Next, a public meeting and comment period will be held by the Bureau of Land Management, who needs to issue its own recommendation for protection. We’ll keep you posted when comment opportunities are announced. We’ll need your engagement until this is made official by Secretary Zinke.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Crystal Elliot-Perez is the Washington habitat director for Trout Unlimited.

By Jenny Weis.