Exploration good for ruralites

If you stand in the Kettle Range mountains of Ferry County, you’d never know one of the largest active gold mines in North America is beneath your feet.

The hard-rock operation at Kinross’ Buckhorn Mine takes place far underground. There isn’t any strip mining; no big holes in the ground. The only noticeable activity is at the mine entrance, where trucks disappear underground and re-emerge with ore and rock. For several years, the Buckhorn has provided the only living-wage jobs in this small county in North-Central Washington.

That’s about to change. The mine will shut down later this year — after years of failed attempts to get through the U.S. Forest Service exploratory drilling permitting process. The company has spent millions of dollars to try to obtain permits to drill small shafts in an effort to see where the gold vein under publicly owned land goes. Without the permits and exploration, the rural county will lose the best paying jobs in the area.

A similar scenario could be unfolding just west of us — near Mount St. Helens and on Goat Mountain. Ascot Resources of Vancouver, B.C., is seeking permits for exploratory drilling in Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The public owns the land, but the company owns half of the mineral rights beneath the surface northeast of the Mount St. Helens crater and on nearby Goat Mountain. The U.S. Forest Service and federal Bureau of Land Management manage the property.

Ascot officials want to determine if there is enough gold, copper or other minerals beneath the surface to warrant opening a hard-rock mining operation deep underground. But the company is running into a challenge in dealing with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and so-called environmental groups, some of which are not in Washington state.

Those opposing the mine point to a potential for loss of wildlife habitat, restrictions on recreation and pollution as the reason behind their objections. In 2008, they used similar tactics to derail a copper mine there.

Ascot isn’t asking for much. The company is seeking exploratory drilling permits to determine whether mining is even viable. Ascot has said exploratory drilling leaves little, if any, footprint on the environment.

Should exploratory drilling be allowed and Ascot find enough mineral concentration to warrant a mining operation, the company will still have many more hurdles before being able to access any copper or gold it finds. But in the meantime, the company would be providing some jobs for rural residents of Skamania, western Yakima and other counties.

Those jobs would provide a much-needed infusion of dollars into many rural communities. That would boost our ability to provide law enforcement services, improve roads and raise the quality of life in South-Central and Southwestern Washington.

So why do I point this out?

Because you have a chance to weigh in on the project. You have a chance to let BLM and the U.S. Forest Service know you support the exploratory effort, and the possible economic boom any substantial find could lead to.

Yesterday, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service announced a 30-day public input period to comment on the exploratory mining process on about 900 acres of land of the 1.32 million-acre Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Keep in mind the request is for exploration of less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the forest — to virtually all outdoor recreationalists, the project would be unnoticeable.

Not surprisingly, the federal agencies and out-of-state groups, have thrown up roadblocks to the project. The spotted owl, tribal cultural resources and blanket statements that mining isn’t consistent with management of public lands.

But our state’s rural history and heritage are based on effective management of timber, mineral and other natural resources. Our rural economies boom when projects such as these bring living wage jobs. Our rural future depends on continued access and responsible management of natural resources.

To let the state know how important exploratory permitting is, email comments to BLM_OR_Prospecting_EA@blm.gov.


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