Mining in the Salmon River Watershed, Idaho

Aug 6, 2014

The 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 important watershed should be a source of clean water for both the wildlife and the communities that depend on it.


In 1994 it was discovered that acid mine drainage had been forming on the embankment at the tailings facility at the Thompson Creek Mine, since 1987. Agencies and the mine finally took action in the late 1990s to remove and/or bury acid-forming sands on the site. This pollution will last in perpetuity. The mining company is currently collecting this discharge and treating it, but no money has been set aside to continue water quality treatments after the mine closes.


We flew over the Golden Meadows exploration project, which had its approval withdrawn just this summer, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) and the Nez Perce tribe. This exploration project would have included clearing the land for 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.


We saw the Stibnite Mine, which, according to the Forest Service and mining companies, has been successfully reclaimed. However, some sections of the Salmon River such as the East Fork of the South Fork at Stibnite are still recovering from these mining activities that had completely wiped out salmon and steelhead runs. The Nez Perce and taxpayers have invested large sums of money on fish restoration and research in this part of the river.


We saw the Grouse Creek Mine which was a cyanide vat leach gold mine permitted in the 1990s. The mine had over 200 water quality violations and leaked cyanide into Jordan Creek which also provides critical habitat for salmon and steelhead. The mine site is in the reclamation process but the site will never be fully restored to previous conditions.