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Land Board Set to Decide on Salmon River Gold Mining Today

PHOTO: Suction dredge mining. Photo credit: J. Hayes
PHOTO: Suction dredge mining. Photo credit: J. Hayes
September 18, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - Idaho has been experiencing a mini gold rush as the price of the precious metal stays at record highs, with hundreds of miners heading to rivers and streams with motorized suction dredging equipment to try to extract gold flakes from riverbeds. One proposal for such an operation is for five years of dredging in the Salmon River near Challis. The Idaho Land Board is expected to take testimony, and likely make a decision, on the lease today.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, will outline environmental, health and recreation concerns.

"To have a noisy, diesel-powered suction dredge machine running in the middle of the river is not everyone's idea of a relaxing float down the river."

He says the dredging alters entire sections of rivers and streams, and the Salmon River project is close to spawning beds for fall Chinook salmon.

Oppenheimer says there's another big reason why the Salmon River shouldn't be dredged for gold. The state and federal governments have spent millions restoring the river to benefit endangered fish, and he says dredging will likely destroy some of that progress.

"So, to issue a lease to a miner to go in and dredge the bed of the river, we just think really makes no sense."

The Idaho Department of Water Quality has issued more than 700 permits for river and stream dredging this year. The Salmon River is a special case because it's classified as a "navigable body of water," which puts the decision in the hands of the land board. The board is also tasked with using Idaho resources for the maximum financial benefit, and the mining would bring some money to the state.

The board meets at 9:00 a.m. (MDT), Idaho Capitol Auditorium, Lower Level, West Wing, 700 W
Jefferson St, Boise.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID