Guest post by Nicole Budine is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series spotlighting the Green-Toutle River.
Since 2005, the Green-Toutle River in Washington State has been threatened by mining proposals. Mining activities in this valley, on the banks of the Green-Toutle River, could pollute these pristine waters, and would destroy the Green River valley as a place for solitude and backcountry recreation.
I first experienced the Green-Toutle River last October, when I visited the Green River valley with a small group to create the video below about this special place.
The beauty of the river and the valley exceeded my high expectations. Despite our concerns that the foggy weather would prevent us from seeing much of the valley, the fog lifted, exposing creeks cascading down the steep valley walls before joining the Green-Toutle River. Autumn in the valley is especially beautiful, with multi-colored shrubs in the blast-zone and yellow trees mingled with the evergreens. During my visit, it was easy to see why many people have worked hard to protect this river from a risky hardrock mine.
The Green-Toutle River begins in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument before exiting the Monument’s borders to flow through the scenic Green River valley. In this valley, the river passes through a landscape shaped by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens – with blast zone bordering patches of forest that escaped the eruption. The valley is only accessible by one, single lane forest road and surrounded by large roadless areas – making it a fantastic place for backcountry recreation activities such as hiking, backpacking, hunting, and horseback riding. The scenic beauty of the valley, its proximity to the Monument, and the immense recreation opportunities motivated the U.S. Forest Service to purchase some lands within the valley with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Some of the very same LWCF lands are now at risk of mining exploration and development.
The scenic valley bordering the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is critical to the health of the Green-Toutle River. People enjoy the remote valley for backcountry recreation and solitude, but the valley has another important value – keeping the headwaters of the Green-Toutle River cool and clean. The wild landscape along much of the river helps to maintain high water quality for wild steelhead and drinking water for downstream communities.
The high water quality and unique ecological features of the Green River valley make the Green-Toutle River eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation. In addition to its beautiful vistas, recovery areas from the 1980 eruption provide unsurpassed opportunities for scientific interpretation of the effects of the eruption and natural restoration processes. They also provide unique habitats for a host of native species, including northern spotted owl and a growing population of elk.
Mining activities in this valley threaten water quality throughout the Green-Toutle River, and compromise the entire watershed. Thanks to the dedication of those who care deeply about this river, we have successfully prevented mining along the Green-Toutle River for over a decade. However, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management may once again allow a foreign mining company to conduct exploratory drilling along the banks of this treasured river. Exploratory drilling risks introducing pollutants into these pristine waters, and it is the first step toward developing a large open pit mine in the Green River valley. We must act now to stop the agencies from issuing these permits and urge them to protect this river long term. With your help, we are hopeful that future generations will be able to enjoy the Green-Toutle River’s clean waters and unique landscape.
Nicole joined the Cascade Forest Conservancy in 2016. She grew up in upstate New York, cultivating her love of nature by exploring the local forests and rivers. Prior to joining the Cascade Forest Conservancy, she held roles doing policy and legal work for Trustees for Alaska and Oregon Wild. In her free time, Nicole enjoys painting, snowboarding, and exploring the northwest with her dog.