Forest Service yanks approval for South Fork Salmon gold exploration
YELLOW PINE — In response to a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League and the Nez Perce Tribe, the Forest Service has withdrawn its approval of a major gold prospecting project proposed for the South Fork Salmon River drainage, citing the need for additional analysis.
The project, called the Golden Meadows Exploration Project, was proposed by the Midas Gold Co. of Vancouver, British Columbia. The project raised concerns from anglers, conservationists, boaters and others concerned about the impacts mining exploration would have on clean water, threatened fisheries and other public resources.
The South Fork Salmon River watershed is home to the most important remaining habitat for summer Chinook salmon in the entire Columbia River Basin. This river and its tributaries also support Snake River steelhead, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. In addition, the river provides outstanding opportunities for fishermen, campers, hikers and kayakers, and supports communities farther downstream.
This spring, the Idaho Conservation League and Nez Perce Tribe had filed a formal complaint against the Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, stating that the project had violated federal laws and posed a threat to Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout—fish species listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Idaho Conservation League is represented in this lawsuit by attorneys Bryan Hurlbutt at Advocates for the West and Roger Flynn at the Western Mining Action Project.
The drilling operation would have required hauling nearly 3,000,000 gallons of fuel over a three-year period. It is over 70 miles to the remote site from the nearest town, mostly on narrow, steep windy roads next to the South Fork Salmon River and two of its tributaries, the East Fork South Fork Salmon River and Johnson Creek. The Idaho Conservation League was concerned that a diesel or chemical spill along these routes or at the site would pose a direct threat to water quality and recovering fish species. As far as on-site impacts, the three-year exploration project would have included clearing 139 drill pads in 26 drill areas, and drilling 178 holes.
“We are pleased with the Forest Service’s decision to withdraw its approval of the Project,” said John Robison, Public Lands Director of the Idaho Conservation League. “While we appreciate the attempts by Midas Gold and the Forest Service to minimize impacts, the South Fork Salmon River is simply inappropriate for this scale of mine exploration or development. Backing off is the right decision.”
“This is a major victory for the Salmon River and Idaho’s native fish,” said Bryan Hurlbutt.
“Hopefully Monday’s decision is a sign that the Forest Service is willing to meet its obligations to protect this special place.”
The Idaho Conservation League said it remains unclear how the decision would affect the larger plan for an open pit mine underneath the riverbed of the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River.
This is the second time this project has been approved and withdrawn. The Forest Service reversed a previous decision in January of 2013 because of potential water quality concerns that the Idaho Conservation League had identified.
“There is a place in Idaho for mining, but the South Fork Salmon is one of Idaho’s prized rivers and simply too important to put at risk,” Robison said.