Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, expressing her opposition to exploratory drilling and hardrock mining on public lands acquired for conservation with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Mineral exploration and development would likely interfere with the recreation and conservation purposes for which the lands were acquired.
The proposed Goat Mountain Project calls for drilling to collect mineral samples including copper, gold, molybdenum and silver. The project site is located in the state of Washington’s Green River Valley, adjacent to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument – a popular destination for recreational activities including hunting, fishing, backpacking and horseback riding. The Forest Service has previously found that the Green River is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River – a designation by Congress to preserve rivers that provide significant natural, cultural and recreational values to the American public. And recently, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife designated the Green River as a wild steelhead gene bank. In addition to recreational and environmental benefits, the Green River also supplies municipal drinking water for thousands of people who live in downstream communities.
The lands on which the project is proposed were purchased with LWCF funds to preserve outdoor recreation and conservation. According to a letter the Forest Service provided to Congress as part of the acquisition process, the land is intended to “aid in the preservation of the integrity of the Green River…and will also aid in the preservation of the scenic beauty of this area which is to become an important Monument portal.”
Sen. Cantwell explained, “consenting to hardrock mining, including exploratory drilling, on lands purchased for conservation and recreation purposes is not sound public policy.”
“Given the incompatibility of this project with the primary purposes for which the lands were acquired and the broader negative LWCF implications, I respectfully request that you refrain from providing consent for prospecting permits for the Goat Mountain Project,” Sen. Cantwell said.
Last year, Congress reauthorized the LWCF program, after it expired for the first time in its 50-year history, and increased funding for the program. In the state of Washington, the LWCF supports outdoor recreation opportunities that contribute about $20.5 billion to the state economy annually. Outdoor recreation spending supports 200,000 jobs in the state of Washington. These numbers compare to other major employers in the state such as the information technology (191,000 jobs supported) or the aerospace industry (94,200 jobs supported). On average, Washingtonians spend 56 days a year recreating outdoors.