Our overflight of the Teton River Canyon and the South Fork of the Salmon River examined current campaigns working to protect these ecologically valuable landscapes. Our partners at Friends of the Teton River and American Rivers are working to preserve the Teton River under a federal Wild & Scenic designation. This designation will protect the river's remarkable values and its free-flowing nature from future dams and threats.
We flew over the South Fork of the Salmon River to examine the beauty and ecological integrity of the river. The river is currently threatened by a huge, open-pit mining proposal in the headwaters. The mining company, Perpetua Resources, has proposed reopening two existing pits at the Stibnite gold mine, along with creating a third pit for a 20-year gold and antimony mining project. The project will affect over 3,000 acres, 75% of which are public lands, and will massively disrupt the currently pristine ecosystem. Three open pits, totaling 510 acres will be mined, a tailings storage facility will cover 400 acres and fill the healthy stream of Meadow Creek with around 100 million tons of toxic wastes, roads will be constructed, and mining contaminates will infect groundwater to such an extent that a water treatment facility will have to be created. The project is located in the South Fork Salmon River headwaters which sustains chinook, steelhead, westslope cutthroat trout, and bull trout. The lasting impact of this project will be real and substantial; hundreds of acres of toxic mine tailings, waste rock storage, and toxic tailings ponds.
The current Stibnite Mine, 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, which devastated salmon and steelhead runs. Nez Perce Tribal members continue to access areas within and adjacent to the Stibnite site to exercise treaty rights, and for cultural and ceremonial purposes. The Tribe also commits millions of dollars in resources to address the negative impacts of mining after companies disappeared and left the Nez Perce and citizens to foot the bill for clean-up. Steady progress has been made in improving the water quality and habitat of streams that were contaminated by past gold mining activity. But, this new mining proposal, which would be one of the largest gold mines in the country, threatens the area today.
The Forest Service initially released a Draft EIS for the mining proposal in 2020; public comments on the plan showed that Idahoans and others were concerned that the proposal did not fully and accurately describe the environmental impacts of this project. After the public comment period closed, the mining company released an alternative plan, with the goal of reducing potential environmental impacts of the project. While the new plan takes active steps to reduce the overall project footprint and addresses some specific environmental concerns, the plan still poses serious environmental risk. To analyze this new alternative, the Forest Service will release a Supplemental EIS in August. Public comment will follow the release.