Restoring mined forest land with more mining?

Midas Gold says their new mine will improve land
Posted at 5:29 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 22:16:52-04

For more than a century, prospectors and miners have been interested in the land upstream from Yellow Pine, Idaho in a place called Stibnite.

The area is rich with valuable minerals including gold and antimony. During World War Two and the Korean War, antimony used to make ammunition, was in high demand and the Stibnite Mine was booming.

But the mining here has scarred the land surrounding the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, prime habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead.

Now a company called Midas Gold says the best way to restore the drainage is more mining.

 "Salmon recovery is part of being an Idahoan," said Midas CEO Laurel Sayer. That's our legacy as Idahoans, is to be able to have the salmon return, and that's exciting for us to be able to play a role in that.

Sayer says the Midas plan puts restoration at the beginning of the project, including filling in this pit, commonly known as "the glory hole."

"In redeveloping the mine through this area, and back filling that pit and allowing a natural stream to run over the top of it again, we can re-access this area for those anadromous or ocean going fish and allow for the restoration of the rest of these channels that have been impacted, and provide that habitat that has been missing for the last ninety years," said Midas geomorphologist Rob Richardson.

Ava Isaacson of Idaho Rivers United doesn't buy it.  "Restoration is taking something that is broken and making it better, not putting patches on it and making it worse," said Isaacson.

She says the Midas plan will leave new scars on the land around Stibnite. "What we find the most egregious is that if  you're driven by profits and you're driven by taking gold out of the ground, an extremely lucrative business, if done right and all of those things, that's fine, but promoting a mining operation as a restoration project to us is obscuring the truth, and we don't think that's an honest way of going about things."

Isaacson says the proposed mining operation poses too many risks to fish habitat; not only here, but eventually downstream in the South Fork Salmon and the main Salmon River. 

Lynnea Imel, who lives in Yellow Pine, believes modern day mining techniques and layer upon layer of government regulation will force Midas to leave the land better than they found it.

"There are so many government agencies that all have a finger in that pie,' she said. "They will watch that so closely, I don't see that there's any way for that company to evade their responsibilities."

Imel envisions a fully restored stretch of the East Fork of the South Fork, but restoration of the land and fish populations will take decades of work.