State Land Board to Consider Leasing Bed of Salmon River

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The sky, childhood, one's highest ambitions and the bed of the Salmon River are all on the list of odd things to lease, but the Idaho State Board of Land commissioners will consider leasing one of them at a regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18.

Mike Conklin, a Grangeville-based miner, submitted a five-year lease application to the Idaho Department of Lands in March proposing to suction mine a half mile of the bed of the Salmon River for gold at a rate of 10 cubic yards of sediment per day. In August, the Land Board delayed considering the proposal and agreed to tour the site before reaching a decision.

The Idaho Conservation League opposes the lease application on the grounds that suction mining poses risks to the indigenous wildlife in the river, including several endangered species.

"The Salmon River is a home and listed critical habitat. Suction dredging literally turns the bed of the river upside down," said Jonathan Oppenheimer, conservation associate at the Idaho Conservation League.

Oppenheimer also has concerns about Conklin's operation's potential for pollution. Refueling dredges may spill gasoline, which could end up in the river.

"The dredges float on top of the water, and a lot of times, they are refueled on the water," he said.

There are currently 700 active recreational permits for mining Idaho's rivers, but Oppenheimer said he worries the state falls behind on monitoring those small operations and enforcing environmental laws.

"It's basically the wild west out there. There's very little enforcement," Oppenheimer said.