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Local Skagit County Governments and Tribes Join Growing Opposition to Mining in Skagit Headwaters

Posted on May 5, 2021 in Conservation News, Skagit Headwaters, WA Wild Blog
Opposition to Imperial Metals mining permit grows to more than 250, led by downstream stakeholders in Washington State concerned about impacts to drinking water, irrigation, salmon habitat, and orca whale recovery.

Today, six local governments in Skagit County, Washington joined an international coalition of more than 250 conservation, recreation, and wild wildlife groups, as well as local elected officials, businesses, and Tribes and First Nations opposing a pending mining permit by Imperial Metals in the headwaters of the Skagit River.

Opposition has grown 20% since January.

A decision to grant the permit by the British Columbia Government has been pending for two years. The opposition has gained momentum in recent months, as new resolutions have been adopted and letters have been formally submitted to British Columbia Premier John Horgan.

View of the length of 26 Mile Valley in the Skagit Headwaters Donut Hole from the ridge between Porcupine Peak and Eastpoint Peak. The Donut Hole is surrounded by Manning and Skagit provincial parks. Photo courtesy of the Wilderness Committee.

The most recent letters include: 

“The opposition to proposed mining in the headwaters of the iconic Skagit River continues to grow as downstream governments begin to learn about the mining threat,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director for Washington Wild.

Washington Wild, a statewide conservation organization, is coordinating an international coalition of U.S. and Canadian stakeholders and Tribes and First Nations in opposition to the proposed mining and logging in the Skagit Headwaters.

“The potential impacts to downstream values such as safe and clean drinking water, irrigation for local farms and agricultural businesses and recovery efforts for federally endangered salmon and orca whales are both unacceptable and unnecessary.” 

Old mining equipment and mine waste dumped in the Skagit Headwaters Donut Hole. Photo courtesy of the Wilderness Committee.

The company proposing to mine in an unprotected area of the Skagit Headwaters, Imperial Metals, was responsible for the infamous Mount Polley mine disaster of 2014, which spilled more than ending 24 million cubic meters of wastewater laden with arsenic, lead, selenium and copper into the Fraser River watershed, one of the biggest environmental disasters in Canadian history. More than five years later, no charges or fines have been filed against Imperial Metals.

These headwaters are unceded Indigenous lands.

The Swinomish, Upper Skagit, Stó:lō, Syilx and Nlaka’pamux people have accessed the Skagit headwaters forests, meadows, and streams since time immemorial for essentials such as clean water, wild foods, ancient trees, and other cultural materials needed for medicines and spirituality. The BC Government is currently engaged in formal consultation with 16 First Nations over concerns about the mining proposal. 

Several Washington state Tribes have formally opposed the mining permit. If granted, the permit could threaten hard-fought treaty rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering in the Skagit basin.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community has passed a formal resolution opposing the mine and they, along with the Upper Skagit, Sauk Suitable, and Samish Tribes, have all sent formal letters of opposition.

“The Swinomish Senate has expressed, in the strongest possible terms, its continued opposition to Imperial Metals’ permit proposal to explore for gold in the Skagit River Headwaters in British Columbia,” said Swinomish Tribal Chairman Steve Edwards.

Backpackers’ camp on the edge of 26 Mile Creek. Photo courtesy of the Wilderness Committee

“Swinomish believe it is prudent and wise to continue efforts to actively oppose Imperial Metals’ gold exploration permit in the Skagit Headwaters, based on the direct ecological link between these headwaters and our homeland on the Skagit River and Salish Sea, the catastrophic failures of that company to protect salmon habitat and water quality in important headwaters, and due to the significant risks the gold mining proposal creates to salmon recovery efforts in the Skagit River Basin, which directly affect the exercise of our Treaty Rights and the ability of every citizen of Washington State to enjoy this priceless natural treasure. ” 

In 1984 a treaty was signed by the U.S. and Canada.

Tracks carved into the side of Claimstake Mountain in the Skagit Headwaters that give access to the exploratory adits. Photo courtesy of the Wilderness Committee

The accompanying agreement was signed between British Columbia and the City of Seattle to resolve disputes over Ross Dam and to maintain the environmental integrity of the Skagit Watershed. In addition, it created the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC) to administer this collaborative partnership.  Both governments established SEEC’s primary mission:

  1. To conserve and protect wilderness and wildlife habitat
  2. To enhance recreational opportunities in the Skagit
  3. To acquire mineral or timber rights consistent with conservation and recreational objectives.

Proposed mining in the “donut hole” is inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the 1984 treaty. It will significantly impact the wilderness, wildlife habitat, and fishery resources of the Upper Skagit River.