Don’t Reverse Progress on the South Fork Salmon

South Fork Salmon River | Photo by Daniel Patrinellis

The South Fork of the Salmon River is a major tributary to the beloved Wild and Scenic Main Salmon River in Idaho. This pristine river provides essential spawning and rearing habitat for threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout. It also offers some of Idaho’s best expert-level whitewater. Deep in the river’s headwaters, a Canadian mining company is proposing three massive open pit mines to extract gold and antimony. This proposal directly threatens the treasured South Fork Salmon and all the downstream communities that rely on the river for their economic livelihood and cultural heritage.

The project proposal includes funneling the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon through a tunnel, tearing up chinook salmon spawning grounds and rerouting many headwaters streams. There are no guarantees that spawning steelhead, chinook and trout will use the tunnel, or that the river would be reclaimed after operations due to the enormous projected costs of such restoration. While the U.S. Forest Service will require a bond to try to protect taxpayers from this costly cleanup, inadequate bonding requirements will likely leave taxpayers responsible for the cleanup should the mine go forward.

Mining in the South Fork Salmon watershed would damage critical migratory fish habitat just as populations are starting to recover from historic mining impacts, after decades of restoration work. Further, impacts from a contamination event would irreparably harm this outstanding recreational resource and jeopardize downstream communities such as Riggins, Whitebird, and Lewiston along the Wild and Scenic Salmon River and the Snake River.

Idaho’s rivers are essential to the state’s identity, whether for remote wilderness river trips, steelhead fishing, irrigation or providing clean water to downstream communities. 2018 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, legislation that has had tremendous benefits for Idaho’s rivers, and its $7.2 billion recreation economy. The massive mine being proposed in the headwaters of the South Fork Salmon could have monumental consequences for Idaho’s rivers and economy, which are too important to risk.

In Summer 2019, the Payette National Forest will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that will be open for public comment. Until then, you can help by joining our coalition of supporters opposed to this harmful project.