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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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BLM OKs exploratory mining near Mount St. Helens

Forest Service previously permitted Ascot USA's plan

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter

The federal Bureau of Land Management said Monday it found proposed exploratory mining northeast of Mount St. Helens would present no significant environmental impact, bringing mining company Ascot USA a step closer to prospecting in the area.

The BLM’s decision would award Ascot two hard rock prospecting permits within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about 12 miles northeast of Mount St. Helens and adjacent to and extending northeast from the boundary of the national volcanic monument.

Ascot’s plans call for drilling up to 63 roadside exploration holes, measuring 2 to 3 inches in diameter, to look for copper, silver, gold and molybdenum on a mining claim in the upper Green River Valley at Goat Mountain, where its subsurface rights are evenly split with the federal government.

The company first submitted in 2011 two applications for prospecting permits for approximately 900 acres on national forest land in northwestern Skamania County. Since the lands were purchased by or donated to the federal government, such mining is available for prospecting only with a BLM permit and the consent of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service gave its consent for exploratory mining in February.

The Forest Service’s decision did not permit a mine, “only prospecting (exploration) activities within the prospecting permit areas. It is not a mineral leasing or development (mining) proposal,” according to the consent document, written by Cowlitz Valley District Ranger Gar Abbas.

The BLM’s Monday decision is subject to a 30-day appeal.

The area is popular for horseback riding, camping and hunting, and, historically, was heavily used for logging and some mining.

The Forest Service bought some of the land involved in the 1980s, using money meant to serve the interests of recreation and conservation. The proposal to mine in the area has drawn the ire of environmental groups and politicians.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., blasted the Forest Service’s decision in February, calling mining near Mount St. Helens “a short-sighted decision that undervalues the important benefits these public spaces offer both to our booming recreation economy and to families who come from near and far to enjoy their beauty.”

The nearby Green River is a state-designated gene bank for wild winter steelhead, meaning hatchery fish aren’t introduced. It’s also a candidate for a federal Wild and Scenic River designation.

The Washington, D.C.-based conservation organization American Rivers has twice declared the Green River, with its headwaters running close to the proposed drilling area, as one of the most endangered rivers in the nation.

The Cascade Forest Conservancy, a regional conservation group, has organized against this and past attempts to mine in the area, and says mining exploration and development could harm threatened salmon and steelhead populations in the Green River and threaten downstream communities’ drinking water.

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Columbian environment and transportation reporter