EcoFlight recently flew with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition over lands affected by phosphate mines in the Blackfoot River valley in Southeastern Idaho.
The valley is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to hundreds of species of wildlife including moose, elk, mule deer, gray wolf and lynx. The Blackfoot is also home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout. These wildlands are widely recognized by scientists across the nation and in Idaho for their biological diversity and importance.
The region has seen impacts from dozens of phosphate mines, around half of which are Superfund sites. A Superfund site refers to a mine that is causing or has caused contamination, where the responsible party is being asked to clean up their impact to the area. Selenium discharged from phosphate mines is a toxic chemical which can harm fish, wildlife and livestock once it contaminates water sources. Over 151 miles of streams in the area have been listed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality as contaminated by unsafe levels of selenium. More than 600 head of livestock in the Blackfoot watershed have died as a result of selenium poisoning and degraded water quality is having impacts on aquatic wildlife. The BLM is considering development of more phosphate mines in the area, including one inside of the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area which was set aside to protect populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and another in the Huckleberry Basin Roadless Area.
We flew over mines like Monsanto's Rasmussen Ridge Mines, North Maybe Canynon Mine and Superfund sites like Enoch Valley Mine, all of which are in violation of clean water standards. Getting an aerial view puts into perspective how these mines are affecting their surrounding environment, and what potential development could mean for this important landscape.
With the amount of contamination and impacts from phosphate mining yet to be cleaned up in the area, groups like Greater Yellowstone Coalition are working with agency and industry officials to ensure the proper clean up of Superfund sites, and to halt further development until that happens.