From gold bars to barring mining, U.S. town awaits extractive ban ruling – by Gregory Scruggs (Thomson Reuters Foundation – December 18, 2018)

WINTHROP, Washington, Dec 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A lthough the wooden boardwalk and turn-of-the-century saloons reflect Winthrop’s Old West history as a mining town, residents these days are counting down to a year-end deadline that could see the government ban extraction there for 20 years.

Dec. 29 will mark the culmination of a battle by citizens of the Methow Valley, a constellation of small towns along a scenic river 116 miles (187 kilometres) northeast of Seattle.

For two years they have worked to convince the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to withdraw 340,000 acres (137,600 hectares) of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest at the Methow Headwaters from future mining claims. If successful, they hope Congress will pass a law that will permanently bar mining in the nearby hills.

“Wildlife, water, recreation, clean air, beautiful scenery, trees – that’s what makes this valley what it is,” said rancher and former forest firefighter John Doran. “There’s not enough gold on Earth that could repay for the damage we would do if we poisoned this valley.” Despite overwhelming local support, the 1,500 residents of Methow Valley’s three towns and surrounding farmland see no guarantee during an administration that has reopened other parts of the West to mining.

The Methow River provides salmon habitat, irrigation and drinking water – all needs that sparked concern when Blue River Resources Ltd., a Canadian mining firm, proposed a copper mine on Flagg Mountain above the town of Mazama in 2014.

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