Last week, the Idaho Conservation League paddled local citizens, business leaders and media on a unique five-day tour of the Boise River, all the way from its headwaters to its confluence with the Snake River, to draw attention to one of the river's oldest, and most contemporary, threats: mining. Guided by ICL Conservation Associate John Robison, the trip began in remote Atlanta on Monday with a tour of Idaho's latest proposed mine site, the Atlanta Gold cyanide heap leach mine. While this operation is still just in its planning stages, Atlanta Gold staff took local property owners on a tour of the site, giving them a rare chance to bluntly express their fears for the already mining-harmed town to the company itself.
"Cyanide heap leach mining has been outlawed in such pro-mining states as Montana because of the inherent dangers and the history of devastating spills and accidents," said Atlanta resident Curtis Stigers at the event. "This cyanide operation is an unacceptable risk to our clean water, our home, and our families' health and well-being."
Over the next two days, Robison steered his canoe downstream on the Middle Fork of the river, past Lucky Peak and into Boise, gathering around him local river outfitters, the City of Boise, companies like United Water and other conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and Idaho Rivers United. All expressed the value of the Boise River, once one of the most polluted rivers in Idaho and now the source of 20 percent of Boise's municipal water supply-as well as one of the most heavily recreated waterways in the state.
"My son caught his first cutthroat on a dry fly on the Middle Fork of the Boise River," said James Piotrowski, president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter, on Wednesday. "I want to keep the Boise River clean so he can teach his children how to fish here. With cyanide mining's track record of contaminating water, this is no place for a cyanide heap-leach mine. The Boise River is more precious than gold to me and my family."
BW joined Robison for sections of his Thursday and Friday paddles, traversing western Ada and Canyon counties before ending at the Boise's confluence with the Snake River. With a floating, littered beer bottle as our guide, we observed a miasma of trash, sludge and beautiful wildlife including mink, great blue herons, hawks, great egrets and even a rare black-crowned night heron. (Need proof of our trip? Oddly enough, we are acknowledged in front-page pictures in both the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press-Tribune.) While wildlife was abundant, Robison acknowledged that each day the water had become darker with silt, runoff and agricultural waste.
"This river has a life of its own," he said. "But it needs help. A cyanide heap leach gold mine is not going to help."