The picturesque Green River in Cowlitz County near Mt. St. Helens is the largest tributary of the North Fork Toutle River, and drains more than 130 square miles through three counties in southwest Washington.
It was also one of the rivers that was greatly affected when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. Since then fish runs and forest growth have slowly returned, but now a Canadian corporation recently started exploratory drilling for what could become a 3,000-acre mine near the headwaters of the Green River.
The threat from a mine to drinking water supplies and the region’s unique ecology has earned the Green River a spot on the annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, a report issued by the conservation group American Rivers.
“Mining, volcanoes, and drinking water supplies don’t mix,” Darcy Nonemacher, Associate Director of Washington Water Policy for American Rivers said in a news release. “There’s so much at stake in the Green River Valley. Not only does this river basin provide clean drinking water for local communities, it provides incredible opportunities for recreation, scientific research, and habitat for wildlife like salmon and elk.”
In addition to concerns over contaminating drinking water supplies, a mine would also impact popular recreation sites and patches of ancient forest that survived the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
“Contrary to claims by a mining company executive that the drilling is in a ‘devastated area’, Mount St. Helens and the Green River valley is a beautiful region that is popular for recreation. No private company has a right to degrade this natural and cultural treasure to make a buck,” said Craig Lynch from Clark Skamania Flyfishers. “I have been hunting and fishing in this area for 25 years and I hope future generations have the opportunity to do the same.”
American Rivers and its partners are calling on the Forest Service to give local communities a voice and consider public input on the mining activities.
“It’s disturbing that there has been no opportunity for the community to provide input about the exploratory drilling,” says Lisa Moscinski, Deputy Director with the Gifford Pinchot Task Force. “Public outcry killed the last mining proposal in this area for good reason: the Green River valley and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are not an appropriate location for a mine.”
American Rivers and the Gifford Pinchot Task Force are asking the Forest Service to explore the possibility of acquiring the company’s mineral rights, due to what it considers irresolvable conflicts between mining and public interests.
In addition, the conservation groups are asking Congress to introduce and pass a bill to protect the upper ten miles of the Green River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This would protect the Green River’s free-flowing nature, water quality, recreational opportunities, and other nationally-significant values for future generations
For more information visit the American Rivers website.