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Conservation Groups Celebrate Anti-Mining Ruling in Frank Church Wilderness

A judge has ruled against a plan to explore mining claims in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wildnerness. (Idaho Conservation League)
A judge has ruled against a plan to explore mining claims in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wildnerness. (Idaho Conservation League)
August 4, 2016

YELLOW PINE, Idaho - Conservation groups got a big win Wednesday as a federal judge ruled against a mining company plan to build roads and drilling pads in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho.

A coalition of groups including Earthworks, the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Clearwater, and Wilderness Watch filed a lawsuit challenging the proposal. The company, American Independence Mines and Mineral, wanted to conduct geological testing to see if their mining claims would produce enough gold and silver to be declared valid by the feds.

Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director with Earthworks, said the company is requesting far too many truck trips.

"They're proposing about 500 truck trips every summer during a three-month period for three consecutive years,” Gestring said. "And that goes far beyond what they need to determine whether or not they have a valid claim."

The judge's ruling required the U.S. Forest Service to look for less harmful alternatives for the mining company to prove its claims - which were grandfathered in when the wilderness area was established in 1980.

Gestring said she would like the company to scale back the operation and use non-motorized methods, since the mining claim area is only about 3 miles from the border of the wilderness.

"It will be very invasive in terms of impacting the wilderness quality and character and affecting wildlife and the pristine nature of the wilderness environment,” Gestring said.

The mining claim lies in the headwaters of Big Creek, a tributary to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. A bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 963 - the Hardrock Mineral Reform and Reclamation Act - would allow state, local and tribal governments to ask the feds to withdraw sensitive lands from mining.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID