April 04, 2019

Conservation Group Sues to Protect Recreation on Public Lands Near Mount St. Helens from Drilling by Canadian Mining Company

Cascade Forest Conservancy filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management decisions to allow exploratory drilling in the Green River valley, just outside the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. CFC previously challenged exploratory drilling permits, which were overturned in 2014 by a federal court. CFC is opposed to the drilling due to impacts on recreation in the Green River valley, the pristine Green River, wild steelhead populations, and the water supply of downstream communities. 

The lawsuit challenges the Bureau of Land Management decision to grant permits on December 3, 2018, and a similar decision issued by the Forest Service in February 2018. The drilling permits allow Ascot Resources Ltd., a Canadian mining company, to drill up to 63 drill holes from 23 drill sites to locate deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum. The project would include extensive industrial mining operations 24/7 throughout the summer months on roughly 900 acres of public lands in the Green River valley, just outside the northeast border of the Monument. The prospecting permits allow for constant drilling operations, the installation of drilling-related structures and facilities, the reconstruction of 1.69 miles of decommissioned roads, and pumping up to 5,000 gallons of groundwater per day.

“Mining activities would greatly impact the fantastic backcountry recreation opportunities within the Green River valley,” said Nicole Budine, Policy and Campaign Manager for Cascade Forest Conservancy. “Recreationists come here to experience solitude, not the constant noise, dust, and lights associated with drilling. This incredible area should be protected from mining so future generations can enjoy this unique landscape.” 

Some parcels of land in question were acquired to promote recreation and conservation under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA). In a previous lawsuit filed by the Cascade Forest Conservancy (then the Gifford Pinchot Task Force), a federal judge invalidated Ascot’s drilling permits and held that the agencies violated the LWCFA by failing to recognize that mining development cannot interfere with the outdoor recreational purposes for which the land was acquired.

“This project would severely impact recreation opportunities due to noise, dust, exhaust fumes, lights, vehicle traffic, the presence of drill equipment, and project area closures,” said Tom Buchele, Managing Attorney of the Earthrise Law Center. “Although they tried to do so, I don’t see how the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management could legally and rationally conclude that the approved drilling would not interfere with recreation in violation of the LWCFA.”

The pristine Green River flows through the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, passing through old growth as well as a unique post-eruption environment that provides habitat for a variety of native fish and wildlife. The Green River, which provides essential habitat for wild steelhead, flows into the North Fork Toutle River and Cowlitz River, which provides drinking water to thousands of people in downstream communities. Forest openings created by the 1980 eruption draw visitors to view abundant elk herds and wildflowers. The Green River trail, Goat Mountain Trail, and other trails in the Green River valley have become increasingly popular with hikers and mountain bikers for their remoteness and mountain views.

“After spending our entire 2018 summer in the Green River area and 3000 hours of volunteer labor, we rehabilitated one of the Pacific Northwest’s most incredible trail networks. The Green River valley offers solitude and a closeness to nature few places can offer,” said Nick Gibson, Race Director for Trans-Cascadia. “With huge views of Mount St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood, we hope this place and this experience can be preserved for future generations to come. 

The Cascade Forest Conservancy also has filed a related lawsuit challenging the failure of the Forest Service and BLM to properly respond to its requests under the Freedom of Information Act. (“FOIA”) for records related to the agencies’ decisions to authorize the drilling. The Forest Service has not produced a single document in response to valid FOIA requests submitted to it in January of 2016 and December of 2018. Although the BLM has produced some records it has violated multiple statutory deadlines and, despite having literally years to do so, has never provided final and complete responses to the Cascade Forest Conservancy’s valid FOIA requests.