Skagit Headwaters Donut Hole
The Skagit Headwaters Donut Hole (Photo: Wilderness Committee)

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.

Upper Skagit "donut hole"
Map show­ing the loca­tion of the “donut hole” in the Upper Skag­it water­shed (Click or tap to enlarge)

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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