U.S. Forest Service Supports Protecting the Methow Valley from Mining

Cantwell Urges Protection of People and Places We Cherish in Methow Valley, Volcano Legislative Proposals

September 22, 2016

Download a PDF of Sen. Cantwell's opening statement here.
Watch her opening statement here.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) received testimony from the Forest Service that they will work to protect the Methow Valley from mining operations.

“This bill is about two things: clean water and keeping an amazing place the way it is,” Sen. Cantwell said. “I strongly urge the agencies to use their authority to immediately protect the Methow Headwaters in support of this legislation.”

Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Leslie Weldon then testified, “The Department of Agriculture supports S. 2291 and believes a mineral withdrawal is the best path toward mitigating any impacts to the ecological, cultural and economic significance of the Methow Valley to the surrounding community.”

“Would you start working on the withdrawal immediately?” Sen. Cantwell asked.

“Yes, our goal is to begin working on that and coordinating with the Bureau of Land Management on the process for an administrative withdrawal. … In light of us beginning this process, the likelihood of us approving any additional explorations is low. We need to make sure we are focusing on the long-term withdrawal process,” Weldon responded.

This Congress, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Maria Cantwell introduced the Methow Headwaters Protection Act of 2016. This legislation would protect 340,000 acres of national forest in the Methow Valley from potential development of a large-scale mine. The bill would withdraw from mineral entry any deposits that could lead to an industrial-scale mine on the lands.

Nearly 1 million tourists visit the Methow Valley annually, contributing more than $150 million into Okanogan County’s economy each year. The upper Methow is essential to salmon recovery; in fact, more than $100 million has been invested in restoration and conservation efforts in the Methow Valley alone.

Sen. Cantwell also heard from experts on her proposal to establish a National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System. The system’s goal is to monitor volcanoes, and warn and protect citizens from undue and avoidable harm from volcanic activity.

Neil Kornze of the U.S. Department of the Interior stated, “The department strongly supports S. 2056 and shares its goal of improving public and aviation safety through comprehensive monitoring of the most threatening volcanoes in the United States and its Territories.” The Interior Department testimony highlighted that the legislation “will improve the USGS’ capabilities to detect eruption precursors at the earliest possible stages (usually weeks to months before an eruption) and to deliver probabilistic eruption forecasts and warnings to the public, land managers, emergency responders and the aviation sector.”

The state of Washington has five volcanoes considered “high” or “very high” risk: Glacier Peak, Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. Many of these high-risk volcanoes lack sufficient monitoring equipment for detecting volcanic activity, which is needed to provide early warning to local communities. Both Mount Baker and Glacier Peak, “very high” threat volcanoes, each have only one seismometer of the five needed.

To better protect lives and property, Sen. Cantwell introduced S. 2056, the National Early Warning Monitoring System Act, with Sen. Murkowski this Congress. The bill would create an early warning program for high-risk volcanoes, like Mount Baker and Glacier Peak. The bill would also unify the monitoring systems of volcano observatories into a single connected system to improve coordination among agencies. Lastly, the bill creates a National Volcano Watch Office, which would be operational 24 hours each day, seven days a week.

Read more on the Methow Headwaters Protection Act here.
Read more on the National Early Warning Monitoring System Act here.