Conservation Groups File Lawsuit to Protect Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness from Needlessly Destructive Mining Activities

Boise, ID – Conservationists filed a lawsuit on July 7 against a mining company’s plan to deploy bulldozers, dump trucks and drilling rigs miles inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, calling the proposed plan needlessly destructive to this nationally treasured landscape. The lawsuit was filed by the Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, The Wilderness Society, Friends of the Clearwater and Wilderness Watch.

The lawsuit challenges the final decision by the Payette National Forest, issued on June 19, 2015, to approve the American Independence Mines and Minerals (AIMMCO) proposal to conduct additional mineral sampling to determine if the claims in question are in fact valid mining claims.

Previously, the U.S. Forest Service denied AIMMCO’s request to undertake a limited amount of claim validation work at Golden Hand. AIMMCO has now proposed and the Forest Service has approved much more extensive and intrusive activities.

The claims are inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and in the headwaters of Big Creek, which flows into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Forest Service decision would allow AIMMCO to use of dump trucks, bulldozers and drilling rigs to open roads, clear drill pads and excavate trenches within the wilderness.   It would also allow 24-7 drilling operations and authorize up to 571 motorized vehicle trips into the Frank Church Wilderness per exploration season each year for three years.

“The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River are priceless treasures belonging to the people of Idaho and all Americans," said Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League. "The mining company, or the Forest Service, could have opted to explore the validity of these claims without the use of heavy machinery, in order to protect this special wilderness setting."

"Instead of scaling back its plans, it went whole hog," said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. "The company’s proposal is needlessly destructive for this remarkable wilderness area."

Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater said, "We just celebrated, the 50th  anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Forest Service must do a better job in protecting the remarkable character of the this large and amazing wilderness."

"The Forest Service decision seriously threatens one of most remote and spectacular wild areas left in the Lower 48 states," added George Nickas of Wilderness Watch.   "The American people would be repulsed if they could experience this place in all its wild grandeur and see for themselves what the Forest Service is allowing to be destroyed."

The groups are asking the Court to deny the company’s overreaching plans and require the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board to limit the amount of drilling, trenching, and motorized activities and to minimize impacts on wilderness, wildlife habitat and people using the area.

The coalition of conservation groups is represented by attorneys Bryan Hurlbutt and Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.


  • Jonathan Oppenheimer, Idaho Conservation League 208-345-6933 x 26,
  • Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks, 406-549-7361,
  • Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755,
  • Bryan Hurlbutt, Advocates for the West, 208-342-7024 x206,
  • Craig Gehrke, The Wilderness Society, 208-343-8153 x2
  • George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048 x4