One Step Back for Clean Water in the Boise River
by: Idaho Conservation League: John Robison Posted on: November 20, 2011
By John Robison, Public Lands Director of Idaho Conservation League.
Editor’s Note: The Boise River watershed is the source of drinking water for communities, irrigation for local agriculture, and recreation activities for the community. Read below to learn about new mining exploration proposals in this watershed and how the Idaho Conservation League is working to stop them and their degradation to wildlife and freshwater resources.
The Forest Service recently denied the Idaho Conservation League’s (ICL) appeal of the CuMo Exploration Project: the next step toward a massive open-pit mine located near the headwaters of the Boise River. The proposed exploration is in upper Grimes Creek, one of the few watersheds in the area not already degraded by mining activities.
In April 2011, ICL and its conservation partners submitted a 76-page appeal, citing concerns that constructing 12 miles of exploration roads and 259 drill holes would adversely affect wildlife and water. The Forest Service Regional Office concluded that the environmental effects had been properly analyzed and that the exploration project could proceed. Under the Mining Law of 1872, the Forest Service cannot deny permits to explore or develop a mining claim on public land. The Forest Service approved the Plan of Operations for the CuMo Exploration Project on August 30, 2011, allowing operations to commence.
The Mining Law of 1872 provides that mining is the highest and best use of the land— even more so than protecting municipal water supplies. Given these constraints, the Forest Service’s decision to deny the appeal was not surprising, as it was consistent with current policy. On July 27, 2011 the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and the Golden Eagle Chapter of the Audubon Society appealed the decision in Federal court. Representing the plaintiffs are Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.
The Boise River watershed supplies clean drinking water for communities, irrigation water for local agriculture, and unmatched recreation activities for our families, all of which make Idaho a great place to run a business and raise families. The mining industry’s devastating track record of contaminating water and leaving the public with the cleanup costs is well known.
The Idaho Conservation League is also tracking other ill-advised exploration projects in sensitive fish habitat along Skull Creek, located in a pristine section of the Clearwater National Forest, and in Hughes Creek in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. In addition, they are pursuing litigation against Atlanta Gold for the continuous discharge of arsenic into the headwaters of the Boise River at levels far above what their permit allows.
Scrutinizing proposed new mines and ensuring that mining companies clean up after themselves is essential for the protection of Idaho’s freshwater resources.
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