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Copper Mine Proposed Near Mt. St. Helens

March 2006 - The latest threat to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a copper mine along its northern boundary. A $400 million mine has been proposed by Idaho General Mines, Inc. from Spokane. Motivated by rising global copper prices, the company envisions a facility operating for as long as 30 to 40 years. The proposed area for the mine extends over more than 800 acres. It is inside the blast zone and was considered for inclusion in the national monument, but left out by Congress at the request of the Forest Service.

The company could propose an open pit mine, which would be big enough to eradicate much of Goat Mountain. Even a tunnel mine involves disposal of waste rock, and wastewater must be pumped somewhere; this area drains down through the Green River. Also, the project will require new roads, perhaps even a new road down the Green River through the pristine old-growth forests in the Monument.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, considered by many to be a mining supporter, manages federally owned mineral rights, and has agreed to review the company's application. But since the proposed site is located on national forest land, the Forest Service must approve it. The Forest Service appears ready to sign a lease for exploration but says there is insufficient information to perform an environmental analysis. Consequently, the Forest Service may require a "contingent right stipulation", which would retain the right to deny any future surface disturbing activity, if environmental consequences are unacceptable. This is little comfort as the pressure to dig the mine will be intense, and no surface disturbance on national forest land does not preclude mining. Some scattered private parcels (old mining claims) are adjacent to the proposed lease area and could be used as a base for a tunnel mine.

The Forest Service should not consider the lease until Idaho General Mines provides sufficient information to make determinations on the environmental impacts. The Forest Service must also determine that the proposed mining activity is compatible with the forest plan and the purpose for which the land was originally acquired. The subject land was purchased for conservation, and not for mining -- reason enough to put the issue to rest. Furthermore, part of the area is in an inventoried roadless area, which is supposed to be off limits to this type of activity. Goat Mountain also contains old-growth forest, and spotted owl and mountain goat habitat. The proposed mining area includes lands along the Green River, which the Forest Service has recommended be included in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. These should be sufficient reasons for the Forest Service to deny the lease request – not prolong the process by issuing weak conditions on a lease.

Contact: Bob Fujimoto, minerals group leader, Forest Service Region 6, (503) 808-2430, rfujimoto@fs.fed.us