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.
The Golden Meadows Exploration Project was proposed by the Midas Gold Co. of Vancouver, British Columbia. The gold prospecting project raised concerns from anglers, conservationists, boaters and others concerned about the impacts the project would have on clean water, threatened fisheries and other public resources. In the summer of 2014, the Forest Service withdrew its approval of the project in response to a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League and the Nez Perce Tribe.
The exploration operation would have required hauling nearly 3,000,000 gallons of fuel over a three-year period. The Idaho Conservation League was concerned that a diesel or chemical spill at the site or along routes to the site would pose a direct threat to water quality and recovering fish species. It is more than 70 miles to the remote site from the nearest town, mostly on narrow, steep and winding roads next to the South Fork Salmon River and two of its tributaries—the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River and Johnson Creek. As for on-site impacts, the three-year exploration project would have included clearing 139 drill pads in 26 drill areas, and drilling 178 holes, and would have dewatered the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River for up to 14 years and permanently filled in the valley with toxic mine waste piled 400 feet high.
This is the second time this project has been approved and withdrawn.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 identified.
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