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South Fork of Idaho's Salmon River Included on 'America's Most Endangered Rivers' List


The South Fork of the Salmon River has been declared endangered. - DANIEL PATRINELLIS
  • Daniel Patrinellis
  • The South Fork of the Salmon River has been declared endangered.
The South Fork of Idaho's Salmon River has, for the second year in a row, been included on the list of "America's Most Endangered Rivers." The list, from the Washington, D.C.-based American Rivers, tagged the South Fork of the Salmon for its "clear, free-flowing waters" that are under threat from a proposed expansion of open-pit gold mining in the area.

Late this year, the Payette National Forest is expected to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Midas Gold's proposed project to reopen and expand nearby open-pit mining. The draft study had already been pushed back from May to August, and just last weeks, officials said the study probably wouldn't be published until December.

"The 'America's Most Endangered Rivers' report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year," said Mike Fiebig of American Rivers.

The Salmon is the second-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 U.S. states, and the Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute tribes have used the river for fishing and hunting for generations.

"Corporate profits from large-scale mining operations should not take priority over the many societal values already provided by a healthy Salmon River," said Kevin Lewis, executive director at Idaho Rivers United. "The failures of the mining industry weigh heavily on rivers across the nation—we can ill afford to add the South Fork Salmon to that list."

In response to the "America's Most Endangered Rivers" report, Midas Gold Idaho CEO Laurel Sayer said even before her company's mining would begin, "we will reconnect native salmon to their spawning grounds for the first time in 80 years."

"We will improve water quality and fish habitat by removing, reprocessing and properly storing the abandoned tailings that currently threaten the river and groundwater," said Sayer. "Our team will also repair the damage from a failed dam to permanently keep sediment out of the river. These problems will not correct themselves. If we want to protect the river, we need to invest in its restoration. We are ready to make the investment and use mining as a tool for restoration."