Belatedly, under public pressure, the government of British Columbia has in recent years moved to make amends for its inattentive, destructive management of lands and waters in the Cascade Range just north of the U.S.-Canada border.
Until recent times, hikers in our Mount Baker Wilderness or North Cascades National Park would climb to a high ridge, just south of the border, and stare into the clearcuts of Depot Creek, Tomyhoi Creek and Maselpanik Creek.
The province once acquiesced to a 122-foot raising of Ross Dam, which would have flooded eight miles of the “Magic Skagit” in B.C., for an annual payment of $35,700. A citizen group called Run Out Skagit Spoilers (R.O.S.S.) raised hell, and pushed the province and city of Seattle to the bargaining table.
Ultimately, a settlement was reached: Seattle received power from a Canadian dam, and the “High Ross” project was history.
Activism has won another sweet, sweeping victory in the upper Skagit watershed. The Province of British Columbia has announced a buyout of mining rights owned by Imperial Metals, the folks responsible for the Mount Polley disaster of 2014, which saw a retention dam burst and send tailings into Quesnel Lake.
It’s a tale of devious government and resourceful greens.
British Columbia has two provincial parks butting into each other and just over the border, the Skagit Valley Provincial Park and to the east E.C. Manning Provincial Park. You can canoe in the Upper Skagit – a place where wolves reintroduced themselves to the valley – or hike up to alpine meadows in Manning Park.
Surrounded by the two parks, and unprotected, is a 5,800 hectare (14,400 acre) area popularly called the “Donut Hole” or more officially, Silver Daisy Creek.
The creek is a Skagit tributary, but was largely overlooked.
That is, until… several leaders of the Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee trekked into the area early this century and discovered industrial logging underway. They raised a very public protest, and the province promised to back off. But B.C. Timber Sales had the chainsaws going again in 2018.
The mining industry in B.C. has long gone and done what it wanted.
Only once has a major project been thwarted, with preservation of the Tatshenshini River at the northwest corner of the province. Once and future prime ministers, Pierre and Justin Trudeau, rafted the river. The right-wing Fraser Institute in Vancouver yelped about the lost mining opportunity for years afterward, but the “Tat’ is now one of North America’s fabled rafting rivers.
Mt. Polley made the public stand up and take notice, although Imperial never paid any penalty for the tailings dam collapse. The company applied for a five-year permit to drill for hold in its holdings. The controversy, this time, crossed the border, since downstream in “the States” our Skagit River is home to the most viable salmon runs in the Puget Sound area.
British Columbia is governed by the left-of-center New Democratic Party, a political home to both lumber workers and environmentalists (including veterans of the R.O.S.S. Committee). Fortunately, the NDP has never been under the thumb of the mining industry. The government of Premier John Horgan finally put the kibosh on Donut Hole logging two years ago. On January 19th came the sweetest win: Imperial Metals’ claims have been bought out.
“It’s been a long time coming: This victory is sweet indeed,” said Joy Foley, a Wilderness Committee campaigner and veteran of the province’s continuing old growth forest battles.
Elected leaders on both sides of the 49th Parallel were quick to celebrate what the public prodded them into doing.
“This milestone reflects on the important relationship we have with our neighbor in Washington state,” said Premier Horgan. The buyout of mining claims is “a shining example of cross-border collaboration,” added Governor Jay Inslee.
Senator Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, put it best.
“This agreement is a big win for the entire region, because the headwaters of the Upper Skagit River is the heart of the Puget Sound Ecosystem, supplying clean and fresh water. And it is a big win for salmon, especially the endangered Chinook that treaty tribes, orcas and our region’s economy depend.”
The Province of British Columbia will now consult with Aboriginal First Nations tribes – another constituency of the New Democrats – on the future of the Donut Hole. The Upper Skagit is a targeted zone for grizzly bear recovery.
Other good news: The Canadian and B.C. governments, and First Nations, are in the final stages of creating Canada’s newest national park.
It will be at the far east end of the Cascade Range, in valleys of the Okanagan and Similkameen Rivers. The new park will take in Canada’s only desert, the fantastic bird and wildlife habitat around Vaseux Lakes, and topography in which signs warn of rattlesnakes at valley bottoms while mountain goats and ptarmigan roam mountain ridges far above.
The lesson to take away: Citizens who love the “Magic Skagit” made this possible.