The international agreement to keep mining away from the Skagit River’s Canadian headwaters stands as an environmental win for Puget Sound. Under the Jan. 19 deal between the Washington and British Columbia governments and nonprofits, the Washington Legislature and Seattle’s City Council must go the last mile and agree to cover the state’s share of buying out the mining rights to more than 14,000 acres of salmon-critical watershed.
The $19 million purchase price for mining rights to British Columbia’s “donut hole” of metal-rich land at the center of provincial parks is split several ways. The Legislature must deliver $4.5 million toward this payoff, as Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed in this year’s supplemental budget request. Seattle Council members should approve sending $1.25 million for the city’s share. Both are prudent investments to preserve Washington’s interest in a clean-flowing Skagit River, a source of both drinking water and salmon habitat. This is a blueprint for how more preservation deals ought to be cut, with government and environmental stakeholders collaborating for big-ticket agreements that carry benefits for so many.
The principle of paying the major mining concern Imperial Metals go-away money has triggered a call by activists to reassess how British Columbia buys out such claims. It would be a mistake, on either side of the border, to limit the capacity to make such creative deals. National and tribal governments needed to apply both pressure and the ability to reimburse sunk-cost investments to get the company to walk away from a potential mine long named “Giant Copper.” A series of corporations have poked around at mining the upper Skagit since at least 1933, with Imperial Metals’ claim dating back to 1988.
The decades since have brought a wider realization of preservation priorities including the Skagit, which nurtures the majority of Puget Sound’s wild chinook salmon and provides drinking water for more than 100,000 Skagit Valley residents. This awareness eventually built an international coalition of tribes, nonprofits and government agencies, which saved time and uncertainty by constructing a deal instead of slogging through lawsuits.
Skagit supporters deserve kudos for making it this far but now must finish the effort and explore how its best lessons can aid other causes. The British Columbia government, which shut off logging in the area in 2019, should close up the “donut hole” for good with permanent prohibitions on mining the area. And the success built by aligning so many cooperating parties — the nonprofit Washington Wild counted nearly 300 officials, businesses, tribes and agencies in its Skagit coalition — should inspire team efforts on other environmental causes to work toward common ground.