The decision to accept Ascot's prospecting permit was announced Thursday, on the heels of an environmental assessment conducted by the BLM and a 45-day pre-decision review period.
According to The Columbian, Ascot's permit outlines its desire to drill "63 roadside exploration holes measuring 2-3 inches in diameter." The drilling would take place about 12 miles northeast of St. Helens, on a southern slope of Goat Mountain.
In his document consenting to exploratory mining, Cowlitz Valley district ranger Gar Abbas notes that minerals were first discovered on Goat Mountain in the late 1800. Since then, the area has primarily been used for logging and recreation—but the area's land-use is changing.
"Recent increases in copper and gold prices and improvements in technology," Abbas writes, "have spurred renewed interest in exploring for hardrock minerals."
He's quick to note that his approval applies to exploration only.
"I recognize that there are concerns related to potential for future mining," Abbas writes. "The current actions before the federal agencies are related to prospecting permits that would facilitate only exploration activity."
Still, the USFS decision has drawn criticism from conservationists who worry about the health of the nearby Green River—a candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation—and the degradation of the area's recreational opportunities.
"Opening the door to drilling at the edge of Mount St. Helens is a short-sighted decision that undervalues the important benefits these public spaces offer both to our booming recreation economy and to families who come from near and far to enjoy their beauty," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told The Columbian.
While USFS approval is required for excavation in a national forest, it's now up to the BLM to determine whether or not to grant Ascot final permits to mine.