Public Lands Director
Idaho Conservation League
Drilling in wilderness?
The Forest Service is taking public comments on an plan to validate mining claims within the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. The historic Golden Hand Mine is located 4 miles inside the Church. A mining company wants to validate old mining claims so that it can reopen and expand the mine. The company has permission to confirm mineral exposures and intends to reconstruct abandoned roads, bulldoze exploration trenches, clear 11 drill pads and drill thousands of feet below the wilderness.
The problem? Mining, the number one toxic polluter in the United States, is completely inconsistent with wilderness values such as clean water, solitude and wildlife. This area is in the headwaters of Big Creek, an important tributary of the Middle Fork Salmon that provides critical habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
Under the archaic Mining Law of 1872, the Forest Service can't say no. But the agency can scale back the project, do more to reduce damage and make sure that activities use the "minimal tools" as required by the Wilderness Act. For example, the mining company can only seek to validate previous discoveries and cannot use this as a chance to find new minerals. All construction materials should come from outside the wilderness, not quarried from historic sites within the wilderness. Workers should not commute via all-terrain vehicles but hike in, just as wilderness trail crews do.
This proposal could also set a precedent for other mining activities in wilderness areas throughout the United States. Mining in wilderness may be allowable through a legal loophole, but a mining company should take extra steps to minimize its impact and not use this loophole as an excuse to bulldoze its way in to a treasured landscape. Speak up for wilderness and take action here.