About OHA

Okanogan Highlands Alliance

OHA is a grassroots conservation non-profit 501(c)3 organization. Since 1992, we have worked to protect the environment in the Okanogan Highlands. We have focused on Buckhorn Mountain, where we stopped an open-pit gold mine in January 2000 known as the "Crown Jewel Project." Our case before the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) resulted in their decision to reverse the Department of Ecology’s approval of water rights and water quality certification, preventing Crown Resources and Battle Mountain Gold from developing a mine at that time.

Crown Resources emerged from bankruptcy in June 2002 with an underground mine proposal for the same ore body and a mill and tailings facility adjacent to the original site in Beaver Canyon. This proposal also faced strong local opposition. In late 2003 and early 2004, Kinross Gold acquired Crown Resources and Echo Bay, which has a cyanide-leach mill and tailings pond near Republic, WA. Crown/Kinross subsequently proposed an underground mine that included; dewatering the mountain, transporting ore in 100 large trucks a day to the mill and tailings pond in Republic, and expanding the tailings facility. OHA was concerned that this proposal would harm water quality and affect senior water rights, and worked to stop this proposal.

Over the next three years, events conspired that resulted in the development of an underground mine. First, the Bush administration lifted the moratorium on mineral patenting the Bureau of Land Management granted a patent to Crown (Kinross) privatizing 154.7 acres of federal land on Buckhorn Mountain for $770. This eliminated the federal jurisdiction of mine proposal since it was now on private land.
Second in September 2006, Washington State Department of Ecology issued a permit to construct the mine and construction began even though hearings of OHA’s appeals had not yet begun. This was due to a third complication, namely that the legislature had created a new entity called the Environmental Land Use Hearings Board (ELUHB), to fast-track large development projects in low-income areas. Under ELUHB the hearing process for OHA’s appeals would not begin until all the permits were issued, which happened over a year later in November 2007.

The patenting of the land, the building of the mine, the fast-track process, and gold approaching $1,000 per ounce contributed to the impression that more could be gained for Buckhorn Mountain, its water and environment and the community by settling the appeals. On April 17, 2008 OHA and Crown/Kinross entered into negotiations resulting in an agreement whereby the mine would proceed with additional monitoring and stream augmentation and would enable OHA to administer a rigorous verification of monitoring and mitigation and implement additional mitigation projects in the Okanogan Highlands.

The Mission:

The mission of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance is to encourage and support education and public participation in decisions involving the integrity, sustainability, and prosperity of our community and the environment. OHA will foster conservation of natural resources and take action to prevent environmental degradation.

The Vision:

OHA is dedicated to protecting the Okanogan Highlands environment.
We believe that our greatest asset is the natural landscape that surrounds us.

We envision:

  • The health, beauty, and integrity of the ecosystem protected for future generations
  • Pure water, a basic necessity of life, safeguarded and used wisely
  • Sustainable multiple use of public lands
  • Land-use implemented to the letter and spirit of the law, not amended for the convenience of mining companies
  • Stable local economic growth that is based on wise stewardship of the land and water
  • Our economy placing greater emphasis on increased diversity, e.g. recreation, small business, retirement and service income, sustainable forest products, and greater variety in farming

The Place:

The Okanogan Highlands are commonly known as the hills and mountains rising east of the Okanogan River, in the northernmost parts of Okanogan County, extending north into Canada. Waters from the Highlands flow toward the Okanogan and Kettle Rivers. The diverse ecology of the Okanogan Highlands makes this area unique in Washington State. The Okanogan Highlands are home to a wide array of plant and wildlife species, including several rare, sensitive, and endangered species. It continues to be a favorite place for hunting, fishing, hiking, birding, and many other outdoor recreation activities. The landscape is tranquil mix of scattered homes with farming and ranching intermixed with forests and grasslands. Aspen and conifer forests, spruce bogs, and marshes blend with dry grassy slopes and meadows resplendent with wildflowers.

OHA monitors water quality at the now-closed gold mine on Buckhorn Mountain. Buckhorn is located on the historic "North Half" of the Colville Indian Reservation in North Central Washington, just south of the Canadian border on the Okanogan National Forest. Five perennial creeks (Bolster, Gold, Ethel, Marias and Nicholson) that originate on Buckhorn Mountain flow into two basins (Myers and Toroda Creeks) before flowing into the Kettle River in Canada and eventually into the the Columbia River.

The Threat:

Shortsighted industrialization, unsustainable resource extraction, and development threaten the natural beauty, wildlife habitat, economic diversity, and quality of life in the Okanogan Highlands. The health of aquatic and wildlife habitat on Buckhorn is threatened by contaminated waters and the privatization of public land. What was once National Forest land has been patented out of public ownership and turned over to a mining company, resulting in the loss of multiple use opportunities and increasing potential for future development that could further degrade habitat.

The Buckhorn Mine continues to contaminate groundwater emanating from Buckhorn Mountain in violation of The Department of Ecology’s discharge permit. Regulatory agencies responsible for controlling pollution have failed to hold Crown/Kinross accountable for permit violations, instead allowing them to continue with impunity. The mining company could leave the water contaminated, and with an inadequate surety bond, there is no guarantee that the issues would be resolved. The public could be left to pay the cost to clean up environmental damage left by the gold industry. (Details on how the Buckhorn mine is adversely affecting water quality can be found in the Mine Monitoring section of this website.)

Water resources throughout the highlands have been impacted by land management practices that degrade water and soil quality and increase sedimentation of waterways. Some logging and grazing practices do not adequately protect streams, springs, and seeps. Some homesite development methods impact waterways, promote the spread of weeds, and fragment wildlife habitat. Together, these issues threaten the health of highland ecosystems.


  • Shortsighted industrialization of our community could shatter the serenity of the highlands for residents and visitors.
  • Water, soil, and air could be contaminated by dust, acid mine drainage, and heavy metal toxins.
  • The health of fish, wildlife, and vegetation on Buckhorn are threatened.
  • Mine shafts are being blasted into a dewatered aquafer.
  • Senior water rights could be impaired.
  • Public land is privatized and results in the loss of multiple use opportunities.
  • Mining companies get rich, yet pay no royalties for extractions of wealth.
  • The public is left to pay the cost to clean up environmental damage left by the gold industry.

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