THE GREEN RIVER VALLEY ALLIANCE—YEAR ONE

Just over a year ago, on October 5, 2021, we came together with supporters at Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, Washington for our first ‘No Place For A Mine’ event under our new revamped campaign. That evening we formally announced the creation of the Green River Valley Alliance – a coalition of individuals, businesses, organizations, and policymakers organized to achieve the common goal of protecting the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens from the threat of mining. In the year since, the Alliance has continued to grow so we wanted to take a moment to provide an update and acknowledge our progress!

 

 

That first gathering at Trap Door kicked off a series of monthly events in which we presented our campaign, held engaging Q&A sessions, and met hundreds of people who took action to support the campaign! To date, we’ve hosted 11 of these ‘Pint Night’ events at breweries across the region from Portland to Seattle and from Yakima to Packwood. In addition to these larger events, the Alliance has also held a number of smaller tabling sessions at a variety of venues which have offered further opportunities to expand and connect with our growing community of supporters.

The Alliance began working to collect signatures on our petition and business/organization sign-on letter asking Congress to enact a mineral withdrawal. We also produced postcards featuring a watercolor of Mount St. Helens and the Green River Valley by local artist Lindsey Fox, for a letter writing campaign aimed at winning over our federal elected officials. As of today, we have sent hundreds of postcards to federal officials and the Alliance has the endorsement of over 1500 individuals, 33 supporting businesses, and 21 Alliance Partner organizations!

 

Artist Lindsey Fox visited Goat Mountain and created a watercolor to support the GRVA campaign

 

In addition to our public outreach, we’ve also been forging relationships with local and regional stakeholders. We’ve met with several local elected officials and are engaging the local forest collaboratives. We have also been working in partnerships with both the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation, who are key allies in this work and who strongly oppose mining in this area. Finally, we’ve been strengthening our relationships with our federal elected officials, who we will ultimately need to champion legislation through Congress.

February 2022 was a particularly exciting time for the campaign as we had two exciting announcements to share at our event that month. First, we announced the launch of www.greenrivervalleyalliance.org — a resource for learning about why the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens are no place for a mine and our mineral withdrawal campaign, receive updates, hear about upcoming events, and take action.

We also were able to share the incredible news that we had won our most recent legal case to stop this mine from moving forward. A US District Court judge ruled that the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had failed to identify the existing condition of groundwater in the area, did not adequately account for all of the negative impacts on access to the Green River Valley area for recreational purposes, and did not define the length of time over which exploratory drilling would take place. Because of these deficiencies the exploratory drilling permits, originally granted by the agencies in 2018, were canceled–or in legal terminology, vacated. This meant that drilling would not take place in the summer of 2022 and that Ascot Resources, the Canadian mining company that currently holds the mineral rights to the area, would need to start the permitting process over again.

 

CFC’s Campaign Coordinator, Sean Roome, Executive Director, Molly Whitney, and Policy Manager, Ashley Short with campaign backers, legislative staffers, and representatives of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation

 

With this legal win behind us, we continued to push forward. This victory may have bought some much-needed time, but it did not provide permanent protections against mining. We know from experience that it is likely that Ascot will seek exploratory drilling permits again.

This summer, we began hosting regular Green River Valley Alliance coalition calls, in which members from our partner organizations came together to share information and strategize about ways to engage the public and move the campaign forward. Alliance partners have assisted in campaign strategizing, written newsletter articles, helped spread our petition, engaged their networks, collected postcards, and shared about our efforts on social media. This collaborative aspect of the Alliance is a key component of our work and these coalition calls are now a cornerstone of this campaign and will remain so moving forward.

In support of our continued work as an Alliance, here are a couple of actions you can take right now to help us maintain the momentum we have built up over the past year. If you have already taken these actions, then please send this to three or more friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else you think may be interested in helping us protect this incredible landscape.

 


 

 

  • Sign on as an Alliance Partner with your business or organization! If you are a business owner or a member of an organization that you believe would be supportive of our work, use this sign-on letter to demonstrate your group’s support for this campaign. To convince elected officials to act, we need backing from the business community!

 


 

The Green River Valley Alliance accomplished a great deal in its first year. We’ve pulled together large numbers of concerned citizens, businesses, and organizations representing a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and interests around the shared goal of securing a legislative mineral withdrawal to ensure permanent protections for the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens against the threat of mining. While we are proud of our progress so far, and grateful for all the support we’ve received up to this point, we still have a long way to go. I am optimistic we can make our goal a reality, and I am looking forward to continuing working with all of you to make this a priority issue for our elected officials!

 



 

We want to give a special thank you to our incredible Alliance Partners and Supporting Businesses! Thank you for your continued support as we continue to push forward!

ALLIANCE PARTNERS
American Whitewater; Backcountry Hunters & Anglers – Washington Chapter; Cascade Forest Conservancy; Clark-Skamania Fly Fishers; Columbia Riverkeeper; Conservation Northwest; Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance; Friends of Clark County; Great Old Broads; Mazamas; The Mountaineers; Patagonia; Trans-Cascadia; The Wilderness Society; Vancouver Audubon Society; Vancouver Wildlife League; WA Native Plant Society; Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Washington Trails Association; Washington Wild; Wild Steelheaders United

SUPPORTING BUSINESSES
Adorn Body Art; Base Camp Coffee; The Bicycle Doctor; Camas Bike & Sport; Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins; Compass Coffee Roasting; Coyote Ridge Ranch; C. Rose’s Ink; Definitely Mabie Consulting LLC; Domaine Pouillon; Full Plate Farm; French’s Farm; Harold’s Burger Bar; Kindred Homestead Supply; Oakshire Beer Hall; Optimism Brewing; Loowit Brewing Company; Lucky No. 3 Tattoo Company; Maple Tree Goatscaping LLC; Medical Vision Center; Monet Vineyards; Mountain Goat Tattoo Co.; North Bank Books; Octopi Ink; Packwood Station; Pariyatti; Raintree Nursery; River House Bake Shop; Roberta Church, Attorney at Law; Shanahans Pub & Grill; Soul Crafted Soap; Thatcher’s Coffee; TNS Archery Outdoors; Trap Door Brewing; Wickering Heights

GATHERING NATIVE SEEDS FOR WILDFIRE RESTORATION IN THE SHADOW OF PAHTO (MT. ADAMS)

Halfway through a day of collecting seeds from native plant species from forests north of Trout Lake, volunteers and CFC staff enjoyed a break with a unique view. Pahto (Mt. Adams) towered above an expanse of charred snags arranged among a green carpet of wildflowers, shrubs, berries, and new saplings flourishing in the abundant sunlight.

 

 

 

This area burned in 2015’s Cougar Creek Fire. Yet, seven short years later, it is well on its way to recovery and is currently providing valuable early seral habitat (areas characterized by the early stages of forest re-growth which are important to many plant and animal species) to the larger forest ecosystem. In dry mixed-conifer stands, like those found throughout the eastern half of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, wildfires are a natural and even necessary part of forest ecology. But not every fire-impacted area in this part of the forest is doing as well as this one.

 

 

In some instances, climate change has led to more intense wildfires and shorter intervals between burns occurring in the same stands. These high-intensity, low-interval fires can deplete buried seedbanks and the forest’s ability to replenish and rely on the supply, making it difficult for some stands to recover naturally. Not far from where we were enjoying our break another fire-impacted area is fairing much differently. The triple burn area was affected by three fires in a short period of time–2008’s Cold Spring Fire, 2012’s Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cold Creek Fire. This area is now struggling to recover, so CFC’s staff, the US Forest Service, and volunteers are stepping in to lend a hand through what could be called “assisted migration” of vegetation from healthy stands to areas that have been slow to regrow.

 

 

For the past 6 years, we have been working to gather seeds from native plant species like beaked hazelnut, wax currant, snowberry, western columbine, pearly everlasting, ocean spray, lupine, wild roses, Oregon sunshine (aka wooly sunflower), and many others. We collect these materials from forests closely resembling the triple burn area in species composition and elevation. The collected seeds are then being used to revegetate the area where seedbanks have been exhausted.

 

Guided by Evan Olson, a botanist for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, volunteers learned how to identify, collect, and label seeds from targeted species, and spent a beautiful sunny Saturday gathering among the understory.

 

 

Leading up to the trip, volunteers were given several documents to get a chance to familiarize themselves with the history of the three fires that created the triple burn area and a resource guide of native plant species that we would be encountering in the field. At each site we visited, volunteers and staff split into groups and dispersed throughout the area to find the seeds. Some worked as generalists collecting any species listed in the pre-trip materials they came across. Others specialized in finding one or two species.

 

At the end of the day, we gathered around Evan’s Forest Service pickup and handed over the last of our haul to be sorted, stored, and then used in upcoming revegetation efforts, including our upcoming and final volunteer trip of the year where many of the same seeds gathered will be spread throughout the triple burn area.

 

 

“This is vital work,” Evan explained as he thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Climate change may be altering the ecology of wildfire and the landscape’s ability to regenerate after a burn, but helpful interventions like these can make a long-lasting difference. 

PROJECT UPDATE: INDEPENDENT VOLUNTEERS HAVE SPENT THE SUMMER PEAKING FOR PIKA

At the beginning of June, CFC hosted a virtual training session to teach volunteers how to survey for pika in the talus slope areas of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Pika survey efforts have been going on for years in the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Rainier, and other locations within the Cascades, but there’s a gap in pika population data in the Gifford Pinchot. 

 

Pika near Takh Takh Meadow by Susan Saul

 

Volunteers could go to sites where pika have previously been observed to conduct sitting surveys, or volunteers could send back reports if they happened to cross paths with a pika when out on a hike. Pika can be hard to spot as they are often well camouflaged by the rocks they inhabit, but wait long enough and they start to scurry around and make calls to the other pika nearby. So far this year, volunteers have conducted 30 sitting surveys and have had 34 opportunistic sightings.

 

Pika photographed at Goat Ridge Lookout by Jennifer Travers

 

These new pika sightings will allow us to have more sites to complete the sitting surveys next year. Most of our projects are not possible without the help of volunteers, and that is especially the case for the pika surveys. CFC sends a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers that have participated and are continuing to participate in the first year of these surveys! 

 

Pika photographed ay McClellan Viewpoint by Steider Studios

 

There’s still time to get involved! If you want to do a sitting survey, please contact amanda@cascadeforest.org so she can send you all the information you need to get started.

 

Pika photographed above Miller Creek by Mackenna Milosevich

 

If you’re ever out on a hike and come across a pika, feel free to share that information with us here.

READ CFC’S 2021 ANNUAL REPORT

Instead of lots of statistics and charts, this year’s annual report is a collection of narratives told by our staff about just a few of the advocacy, conservation, and restoration successes of last year. Together, these stories demonstrate how CFC continued to achieve positive impacts for the forests, rivers, wildlife, and communities throughout the southern Washington Cascades in 2021, thanks to the generous support of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers.

Enjoy!

Click here to download a PDF or read the report below

THE INSTREAM WOOD BANK NETWORK IS FORGING PARTNERSHIPS TO SUPPORT FISH RECOVERY

It’s been a busy season for the Instream Wood Bank Network. We have a lot of plans in the works and a few big movements of wood now under our belt.

 

THE INSTREAM WOOD BANK NETWORK

 

Across the Pacific Northwest, many fish populations are struggling due to compounding challenges, including degraded habitats lacking in complexity. Streamside logging and efforts to straighten channels and clear obstacles resulted in a massive reduction of instream wood—a habitat feature that helps support fish throughout their life cycles by slowing flows, creating shallow gravel beds and deep pools, and cooling water temperatures.

In response, many agencies, Tribes, and restoration professionals are reintroducing woody debris and logjams into aquatic systems. Aquatic ecosystems are healthier—and more resilient to the impacts of climate change—when these habitat features are restored. However, some of our partners often face difficulties sourcing the wood needed for restoration projects due to expense or availability. 

These are the problems the Instream Wood Bank Network was created to address. 

 

 

The innovative project is a highly collaborative program that functions as a set of partnerships to supply wood for restoration projects and create a better use for trees that would otherwise become wood chips, cut for firewood, or burned on-site. We work with a wide variety of landowners, local contractors and haulers, and agencies to source and haul materials. Wood is then provided to complement and advance the instream wood placement projects being managed by various restoration partners, including the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, Friends of East Fork Lewis River, the U.S. Forest Service, and others. Having extra or less expensive wood materials for their projects allows these groups to expand their impact. In short, the Wood Bank allows our restoration partners to do more work for less money and represents an encouraging win-win for rural economies and communities, conservationists, and (of course) fish.

 

AN EXPANDING IMPACT

 

The Instream Wood Bank Network is still a relatively new endeavor, but it’s already producing major results. So far this year, we’ve moved approximately 360 trees and delivered them to partner organizations who will be using them to restore habitat for salmon and a variety of other wildlife. We are also using some of these trees for one of our own habitat improvement projects later this year, on a tributary of the South Fork Toutle River where we will be employing low-tech, process based methods to restore aquatic and riparian health along a waterway that flows through degraded timberlands. 

 

A person is sitting with a notepad beside a river flowing in a forested area
CFC staff and partners on a site visit to the South Fork Toutle River watershed in 2020

 

Earlier this spring, we facilitated the transfer of 50 Douglas firs that were laying on the ground in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area that had been pushed over as part of a road realignment project and were slated to become firewood. These trees had root wads attached and would make perfect instream habitat trees for fish. We contacted the Forest Service just in time and instead arranged for the transfer of these trees to support the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s upcoming instream work on Wildboy Creek. 

The logistics of transferring wood, especially salvaged wood of this sort, are complex and require working through a number of agency steps and with a number of different contractors in the stacking and hauling of logs. The end results will be worth the effort. The Tribe will be removing a dam and installing instream wood. The project will dramatically improve habitat potential and restore fish passage to upstream reaches of this currently fragmented waterway. The addition of instream wood will also benefit the area as it recovers from the ground and waterway disturbance caused by the removal work, helping restore health to the waterway.

 

 

Recently, the Wood Bank also successfully sourced 284 logs for our partners at Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group. These were sourced from a Department of Natural Resources location where trees are grown for seed production. Due to their growth patterns, these trees are not able to be sold as lumber and were going to be chipped up for pulp. We thought a better use for these trees would be building fish habitat in the Coweeman River and various tributaries of the South Fork Toutle. So we worked with the logger and the landowner and coordinated this movement of wood. Not only are these salvaged logs finding a new home where they are able to serve as habitat, but we were also able to supply them to our partner for around half of what they would have otherwise paid to acquire trees from an intact forest. 

As the impact of the Wood Bank Network grows, we are looking ahead and creating new opportunities to make downed trees available for river restoration projects. In addition to ongoing conversations with timberland owners, such as Port Blakely and Weyerhaeuser, we are looking across the region for trees being cut for urban development. 

 

 

As one can imagine, the logistics involved in building new partnerships and coordinating successful wood movements are demanding. This is a complex endeavor that is bringing people together from across a wide range of interests and ideologies. It seems to be that a project designed to restore rivers through cooperation, partnership, and the creation of economic opportunities, is something we can all get behind.

MY FIRST FIELD TRIP WITH CASCADE FOREST CONSERVANCY

Two weeks ago, I participated in my first project in the field with CFC staff and volunteers in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Beavers were previously introduced to specific sites, and our goal was to revisit these locations to identify any signs of beaver habitation and survival. As a native southside Chicagoan who has never visited the Pacific Northwest, I was thrilled to begin this new experience while exploring and camping in the woods. Day one started with friendly volunteers meeting each other and sorting into four groups. Each group had a designated path to a meadow, described by Amanda (CFC’s Science and Stewardship Manager) as a serene landscape that would be worth our journey. With an iPad to navigate in hand, tools for removing invasive species we happened to come across, oversized boots, and a few squished sandwiches in my backpack, I eagerly followed my group into the woods for a new adventure.

 

 

Leading up to this weekend trip, I pictured myself hiking on clear trails. Those expectations were quickly dashed after beginning our trek, for the woods were much denser than our group anticipated. I embraced the challenge of intense bushwacking, though, and powered through a series of branches and shrubs with my group for the sake of beaver evidence. We found a few gnawed sticks with teeth marks and proceeded to photograph them and map our locations. I found a few sticks myself, but they were just beetle larvae patterns carved into the wood. We continued our journey throughout the day, wading through the river and gazing at amazingly tall trees, only to ultimately decide to turn back in fear of not returning in time.

 

 

Unfortunately, my group and two others did not reach the beautifully acclaimed meadows, though I may still get a chance to see it if we return to release beaver later in the summer. Although we never reached our destination, I enjoyed the trek very much. My group spent the remaining time identifying and removing invasive species in a nearby parking lot until the other groups returned, ensuring their seeds couldn’t spread to other areas of the forest by attaching to hikers, pets, or vehicles. I didn’t even need to use my handy plant identification app, Seek, because my group members were incredibly skilled in determining all plant species within seconds of looking at one. I aspire to be at their expertise one day.

We visited a secret waterfall before heading to our campsite. It was absolutely magnificent- a rainbow shined at the bottom of the falls over glistening mossy rocks. The cliffside was full of beautiful cascades and Douglas firs at various levels. Since this was my first waterfall, my expectations are now unrealistically high, as I’m sure I will never achieve such a state of awe again. When we arrived at our campsite afterward, we all quickly set up our tents and began cooking elaborate dinners. Well, the volunteers did. I struggled to set up my tent, even with Amanda’s help, then savored a delicious meal of smushed berries and my last sandwich. The entire group continued for a few hours, laughing and talking around the campfire, others visiting a nearby lake. I, however, promptly fell asleep from pure exhaustion. 

 

 

Day two of our adventure placed us near a set of frog ponds southwest of Mount St. Helens. Since this area was reasonably open compared to yesterday, all participants ventured together naturally because we could see one another no matter where we roamed. While searching for beaver evidence, volunteers clustered around a fallen tree that looked like a potential living space for beaver. Smaller ponds and channels surrounded the fallen tree, but nothing too deep that my oversized boots could not handle. I noticed a log slightly concealed by grass that offered itself as a shortcut to the rest of the volunteers. With only shallow creeks and channels resting nearby, I assumed there was no risk and began walking across the log. Having traveled across multiple logs the day before, I had practically become an overnight professional in hiking with supreme balance.

 

 

I was a fool whose enthusiasm had led me to commit a grave mistake. Within two seconds of stepping of walking, I slipped and fell straight into a hidden pond, submerging my body to my hips. Luckily I had stashed my iPad and phone in my backpack moments before, so all was not lost. The CFC staff said this was a rite of passage; my soaked pants begged to differ. I shuffled around in damp clothes for the rest of the day, but my spirit remained unbroken. We found some older signs of beaver that indicated their presence this past winter, but nothing extremely recent. We dedicated the rest of our day traversing down a creek, a fun excursion that led us down a winding stream with several spots for possible future beaver relocations.

 

 

As the trip wrapped up and we returned from the ponds, I said my goodbyes to my new friends and thanked those who let me dry my wet clothes on the hoods of their cars. I felt very happy to have contributed to fieldwork that will inform future beaver reintroduction locations and practices in upcoming years. Overall, I loved spending my weekend in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with CFC, and I look forward to creating many more memories on future trips throughout the summer.

COMING SOON: A NEW VISION FOR THE THE COLDWATER RIDGE VISITOR CENTER

When the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created it was expected to host 1-2 million visitors a year. It currently receives less than 500 thousand.

Our friends and partners at the Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI), a non-profit that advances understanding and stewardship of the Earth through science, education, and exploration of volcanic landscapes, are looking for new ways to connect people to the volcano. Recently, they brought a proposal forward in response to the USFS’s public “Request for Expressions of Interest”—a major update to the former Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center that includes a small campground, cabins, 3 small lodges, staff housing, and food service to better meet the needs of their Outdoor School programs as well as meet the needs of other visitors to the Monument through overnight accommodations.

Due to a lack of USFS resources and funding to keep up with maintenance, and declining visitation, the former Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center closed in 2007. However, in 2012, MSHI began partnering with USFS on use of the site for education and community engagement programs. The number of people, primarily youth, served at the site nearly doubled every year from 2011-2017, reaching existing capacity in 2018. It became clear that the current facilities don’t have the capacity or scale of operations necessary for MSHI to operate sustainably and fully realize the educational and community-building potential the Coldwater site holds. 

 

The current Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center
An illustration of the updated exterior

In response, the MSHI developed a vision to transform the current facility into a world-class, environmentally and financially sustainable, nonprofit facility that provides outdoor school and other educational experiences while expanding access to public land. If realized, MSHI’s planned improvements will also enable Coldwater Ridge to welcome more students and outdoor schools while hosting events and retreats, overnight campers and guests, and more day-use visitors. These additional activities will provide self-sustaining funds needed for regular maintenance and educational programming while increasing access for visitors coming to connect with and experience this unique and inspiring landscape.     

MSHI’s proposal calls for the creation of new lodges to house students attending outdoor schools, improvements to the existing visitor center, 10 new cabins, staff housing, the construction of a new campground, outdoor classrooms and amphitheaters, and more, enabling visitors to experience Mount St. Helens over multiple days rather than a short visit.

According to MSHI, the new developments will be built to Living Building Challenge standards, using the most sustainable building materials and practices available. Because of the existing infrastructure (including multiple buildings and large parking area), there will be only limited impacts on the landscape outside of areas that have already experienced extensive disturbances. While increased use and development may sometimes result in negative consequences, this site, which is easily accessible from Interstate 5 and lies along the route to the well-used Johnston Ridge Observatory, already experiences significant visitation. In this instance, the upgraded facilities and environmental education provided there could actually help reduce negative impacts while increasing access.

Mount St. Helens is an incredible place that deserves to be sustainably enjoyed and cherished by all. CFC is supportive of the MSHI’s plan to increase access to and appreciation of the natural world–especially for students and outdoor schools. Once the final design and engineering work are complete, the Forest Service will present the plans and an analysis of their potential impacts to the environment for public review and feedback in compliance with processes required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CFC will participate in the NEPA process and offer feedback and comment to ensure the project will not impact ecosystems and species within the Monument and surrounding landscape.

PROJECT UPDATE: USING TECHNOLOGY, DOGS, AND ELBOW GREASE TO PROTECT OLD-GROWTH HABITATS

Working to eradicate an established invasive species can leave land managers and conservationists feeling a bit like Sisyphus, but new approaches may help turn the tide in their favor. 

In June, Cascade Forest Conservancy led three separate groups of volunteers to help contend with an invasive plant species that is increasingly concerning local botany specialists and conservationists. They employed a combination of high-tech tools, a new experimental approach, and good old-fashioned elbow grease to help protect old-growth habitats!  

 

MEET STINKY BOB: A SMALL PLANT AND A BIG PROBLEM FOR OLD-GROWTH HABITATS

 

The plant, Geranium robertianum, commonly known as herb-Robert, stinky Bob, and many other names including red robin, fox geranium, crow’s foot, and death come quickly, is an attractive plant with pink flowers and unique lobed leaves–a welcome and fairly common sight in its native range throughout Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. But here in Washington, where it has been recognized as a noxious species in the 1990s, herb-Robert is a problem.

Many populations of non-native plants seem to be concentrated in heavily disturbed areas such as roadsides, within clear-cuts, or around the edges of parking lots. Others, like herb-Robert, are different and may be capable of overwhelming and replacing healthy and diverse native plant communities.

Old-growth forest found along the Lewis River Trail

Herb-Robert is particularly concerning. The shade-tolerant weed has been found in native-rich old-growth forests that are typically resistant to infestation by invasive species. Locally, it has been found in old-growth habitats along the Lewis River corridor and other remote areas of the forest. We have seen that if left unchecked, herb-Robert can take over a landscape, drastically reducing local biodiversity and out-competing native species that offer important benefits to pollinators, wildlife, and the ecosystem as a whole.    

 

ELBOW GREASE, GRIT, AND GPS

 

With the help of hard-working and generous volunteers, CFC has been collaborating with the Forest Service to map and manage herb-Robert in old-growth forests near the Lewis River and along a road near the Cedar Flats Research Natural Area (RNA) to maintain a weed-free buffer that has so far prevented the weed’s spread into the RNA. In June, eleven volunteers braved the drizzly weather to once again help protect the health of these places. 

We stayed fairly dry under the dense overstory as we revisited plots where we have been pulling herb-Robert for four seasons. Once again, volunteers got right to work hand-pulling the pesky invaders. The plants were securely loaded into large garbage bags until they were so full we could barely carry them on our three-mile hike back to our cars.

Volunteers filled large bags with the invasive weed, herb-Robert, along the Lewis River Trail

Staff and volunteers also carried iPads loaded with GPS-linked data collection apps and spatially-linked photos to track the project’s progress year to year and identify the exact location of each patch. We found fewer and smaller plants than in previous years–indicating that previous hands-pulling efforts have had a positive impact in the area. We hope that our continued efforts are helping to deplete the herb-Robert seed bank by removing the plants before their seeds can ripen and disperse (seeds can be ejected 15-20 feet). 

We also found a previously unmapped plot that was larger than our volunteers could tackle on this trip. Fortunately, our volunteers still helped combat the invasive plant by mapping and sharing the location with partners at the Forest Service and the Skamania County Noxious Weed Control Program, who have more resources to manage sites that require long-term treatment. 

We had extra help this year from an additional group of volunteers who joined us thanks to a partnership with the Multnomah Whiskey Library. With their help, we cleared even more plants from areas near Cedar Flats and a few additional plots near the parking lot of the popular Ape Caves. Removing the plants from this high-traffic area is helping prevent seeds from being carried to new locations on visitors’ boots, gear, bike tires, or even pets!

 

SNIFFING OUT STINKY BOB

 

A third group spent a weekend kicking off a brand-new way for volunteers (and their four-legged friends) to make a difference in efforts to combat invasive weeds. We were working with Rogue Detection Teams (RDT), an amazing organization that trains rescue dogs to find everything from rare species of caterpillars to wide-ranging predators in remote areas using their incredible sense of smell, to test a new approach to managing invasive species.

Experenced bounders from RDT explained how they train rescue dogs to work as partners in conservation science

Under the expert guidance of the RDT bounders, our human and dog volunteer teams began the process of learning to sniff out herb-Robert. Specially trained canines have been used in conservation work for years, but this new program is the first to explore whether or not the pets of science and restoration volunteers can be trained to successfully find and point out hard-to-find weeds in dense understories. Needless to say, everyone had a blast! 

Pets took turns learning to identify herb-Robert

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog exploring this exciting new partnership.     

ACTION ALERT: IT’S TIME TO SPEAK UP FOR HARDRCOK MINING REFORM

Mining reform is currently a hot topic, particularly in Washington D.C. There is a growing national conversation about how best to obtain critical minerals needed to fuel the green energy transition while protecting the environment and communities. There are major challenges that we must address to do so. The laws currently governing mining on federal public lands are a patchwork of requirements that make it extremely difficult to ensure hardrock minerals are mined responsibly on those lands.

Policymakers are grappling with what to do about these badly outdated laws, many of which are rooted in a historical legacy of colonial racism and antagonism against the natural world. We know better alternatives to those laws are possible. Change is on the horizon, which means this is the time for the public to get informed and get involved.

 

HISTORY OF HARDROCK MINING LAWS IN THE U.S.


 

In the 1800s, the United States enacted policies to encourage people to “develop” and colonize the West, including the General Mining Law of 1872. This statute was grounded in manifest destiny and other beliefs we recognize as racist, harmful, and wrong. The 1872 law gave lands to mining developers (at very little cost) that had been taken from Indigenous communities.

 

The now-abandoned mining town of Carbonado, WA in 1900. Image courtesy of westernmininghistory.com

Once a claim was patented, the government would recognize a miner’s right to extract minerals –regardless of any other considerations. When the law was passed, the value of the nation’s currency was tied to physical gold (and would remain so until 1971). It’s not surprising then that in addition to giving away land, this statute gave preferential treatment to mining over other land uses. 

Over time, small changes were added to the mining regulatory structure. The government created a different structure for regulating mining on federal lands acquired after the act was passed. Mineral rights in these areas can be leased rather than claimed–which gives land managers limited discretion over mining activities compared to claims on lands regulated by the original 1872 General Mining Law.

The last significant update to the system of regulations governing hardrock mining activities was the Mining and Mineral Policy Act of 1970. 1970 was also the year of the first Earth Day. The conservation movement was gaining momentum and there was broad bipartisan support for laws protecting the environment–but the gold standard had not yet been repealed and the government continued to place a high priority on extracting hardrock minerals.

The 1970 policy made it clear how important extracting hardrock minerals remained to the US government. It stated “that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in the national interest, to foster and encourage private enterprise in (among other goals) the development of domestic mineral resources and the reclamation of mined land. This Federal policy obviously applies to National Forest System lands.”¹

 

Colorado’s Gold Kind Mine Disaster in 2015 was the result of an accident that occurred as EPA crews were working to clean an abandoned mine

Centuries of bad laws regulating mining caused a massive amount of legacy pollution that is still around today. Abandoned hardrock mines have been a known problem for years and a strain on taxpayers due largely to the fact that the General Mining Law of 1872 did not include any environmental protections or cleanup requirements. And unlike regulations governing other extractive industries like oil and gas, the law does not require royalty payments to the government, which could have helped offset the costs of pollution and cleanup taxpayers incur.

Unsurprisingly, the West is littered with abandoned mines. According to the Environmental Protection Agency “[m]ining in the western United States has contaminated stream reaches in the headwaters of more than 40 percent of watersheds in the West.” Sadly, it is often the wildlife and communities living nearby who suffer the environmental and health consequences.

 

HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS TODAY


 

Today, hardrock mining is still primarily regulated by the 150 year-old General Mining Law and the 1970 policy. In other words, mining continues to get preferential treatment over other land uses and mining companies continue unnecessarily harming environments and communities while facing little or no accountability. This has been true even in many cases when the decision-making agencies have some discretion. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have the discretion to deny mining operation permits in mineral leasing applications. A long and contentious decision making process about mineral leases near the Boundary Waters may become a sign that positive change is starting, but the use of discretion has not been the norm. As the authors of a 2016 Government Accountability Office Report note, although “[t]he agencies may . . . withhold approval of the mine based on the findings of the environmental analysis. . .BLM and Forest Service officials told us that they were not aware of any instances where this had occurred.” 

 

The Green River Valley near Mount St. Helens has been a long-time target for corporations seeking to develop a new open-pit mine

In cases where the General Mining Law directly applies, the USFS and other agencies have stated in official documents that they don’t have the authority to say no to mining if all other requirements can be satisfied. 

It’s worth noting the loopholes in other environmental laws and policies that help enable irresponsible hardrock mining projects, including specific exemptions for mining within sections of the Clean Water Act.

 

Loopholes for hardrock mining in the Clean Water Act put places like the Green River–a source of drinking water and a critical gene bank for wild steelhead–at risk

Given all this, and since the BLM and USFS have only rarely exercised their discretion (when they have it) to deem a mine inappropriate, one of the only ways to protect specific federal lands from mining is with a mineral withdrawal–a federal land management tool which essentially disallows mining as a land use in a set boundary in order to maintain other public values in that designated area. A mineral withdrawal lasting for a 20 year period can be executed administratively through the executive branch, but a mineral withdrawal enacted in Congress is harder to reverse and has no expiration date. 

CFC is currently working on securing a legislative mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley bordering the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, to permanently protect it from the threat of an open-pit mine. 

 

 

NEEDED REFORMS


 

Given all of these known problems and the colonial history of laws regulating hardrock mining on lands managed by the Federal Government, CFC supports reforms that would ensure mining is done responsibly, sustainably, and with the consent and involvement of the affected communities–especially Indigenous ones. 

Momentum is building, but reform efforts for hardrock mining have been underway for decades. CFC agrees with many of the suggested reforms including efforts to: close loopholes for mining that currently exist in environmental laws like the aforementioned Clean Water Act; ensure Tribes and local communities have a robust say in the planning of mining operations; create a reliable fund for the cleanup of abandoned mines; give land use managers the ability to say “no” and encourage them to do so in response to mining when other competing land uses and values deem a mine inappropriate in a particular area. 

Towards that goal, we’ve been supporting several efforts to achieve these important reforms including signing on to express our support for bills in Congress such as the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022. We’re also engaging with the administration in the Interagency Working Group on Mining Regulations, Laws, and Permitting. This process is being undertaken by the administration to identify regulatory and congressional actions needed to update our hardrock mining regulatory structure to meet the principles for reform set out by the Whitehouse. 

 

TAKE ACTION


 

It’s long past time to rethink how we approach hardrock mining. As we move beyond a fossil fuel economy, we may come to rely on materials provided by hardrock mines even more than we already do. We will have to meet these needs while also protecting communities and our environment. 

Mining reform is needed now because our current system is setting us up to fail to achieve that goal.  It’s going to take a lot of feedback and grassroots work to get the needed reforms over the finish line. Here are a few ways you can help. 

First, use existing systems to secure a mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley. Learn more here.

Next, submit your own comments to the Interagency Working Group. They are accepting public input through July 31st, 2022.  

When you submit comments to the Interagency Working Group, please include some of the talking points here. Ask the Working Group to:

  • Recommend a legislative withdrawal for the Green River Valley in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and ask them to execute an administrative legislative withdrawal as well.  
  • Close loopholes for mining in environmental laws like the Clean Water Act. 
  • Add royalty payments for hardrock mines to help ensure cleanup of mines when all the extraction is done.
  • Ensure strong environmental protections for all hardrock mining operations. 
  • Allow land managers to have discretion to decide where other resource values outweigh mining in particular areas. 
  • Create strong public participation, Tribal consultation, and community involvement processes in mining proposals on all Federal lands. 
  • Ensure responsible and thorough cleanup of abandoned mines.
  • Create and fund an abandoned mine program to ensure government agencies have the resources they need to clean up all abandoned mines.

To comment either email comments to this address (miningreform@ios.doi.gov) or submit directly to the Federal Register here.

 

¹ Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970

A POSITIVE STEP FORWARD FOR CLIMATE-SMART FOREST MANAGEMENT

President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order has real potential to be the start of an important shift in the way forests on federal lands (and beyond) are managed. In the fact sheet provided by the Administration, concerns about climate are front and center. The Order recognizes that forests serve vital functions helping to slow the acceleration of climate change and acknowledges the outsized impact of mature and old-growth forests in capturing and storing carbon. 

Biden’s Order directs federal agencies to create a consistent definition for old-growth forests that accounts for regional and ecological variation and to complete an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal land. This inventory will be made available to the public and could serve as a useful tool for conservationists and scientists across the nation.

 

The Executive Order also aims to aid rural economies by supporting community-led efforts to create and sustain jobs in the outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products industries, requires agency-specific reforestation targets, and calls for expanded seed collection projects.

Additionally, the Earth Day Order is directing the government to study and evaluate the vital functions that forest ecosystems provide beyond producing extractable resources. Calculating the monetary value of the many benefits these places provide to society (such as healthy populations of pollinating insects, clean air and water, and carbon sequestration) is a key component in re-imagining how we think about resource management.

Language in the Administration’s fact sheet also recognizes the importance of nature-based solutions to habitat restoration and wildfire risk mitigation. We’re encouraged that Biden’s Order calls for a report on nature-based solutions (projects like CFC’s work installing beaver dam analogs) to slow climate change and enhance habitat resilience.

 

These are all positive steps forward. But what ultimately results from this Order will depend on us. While the Order itself does not prohibit or offer updated guidelines related to logging, it does direct federal agencies to analyze threats from wildfire and other climate impacts facing the mature and old-growth forests they inventory, and to develop new policies to “institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies.”

These new forest management policies aimed at safeguarding mature and old-growth forests will be created through a process “with robust opportunity for public comment.” That means that scientists, conservationists, organizations like CFC, and people like you who care for the future of our forest and environment will all have a role in shaping the policies that will guide how our public resources are used and stewarded for years to come.

Public lands belong to all of us and how they are managed will have an impact on all of our lives, for better or worse. Biden’s Order is an important first step in a process that is only just getting started. It represents an exciting opportunity to work together, speak up, and make a lasting positive difference for our climate, our forests, and our communities.