BOISE — On Tuesday, June 23 the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, and the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club reached a resolution with the U.S. Forest Service and a mining company over a proposed gold exploration project in the Humboldt-Toyaibe National Forest. The project is located in the headwaters of the Jarbidge River in northern Nevada, near the Idaho border.
Through what’s known as an objection resolution process, the conservation groups secured additional measures to reduce the scope of the project and impacts to bull trout, and to enhance water quality protections. These additional conditions, which will be incorporated into the Final Decision Notice for the project, include:
- A 98% reduction in the number of drill sites and an 88% reduction in acreage of surface disturbance compared to what was proposed in the original project.
- Increased frequency and coverage of water quality monitoring in the drainages affected by drilling activities, as well as the development of a groundwater monitoring plan.
- Improvements to stream crossings, additional turbidity monitoring, and the development of a project transportation plan to help minimize sediment impacts to bull trout.
The Forest Service and the project’s owner, Newcrest Resources Inc., based in Australia, agreed to these terms.
Randy Fox, ICL’s conservation associate, said, “We appreciate the U.S. Forest Service and Newcrest sitting down with us to resolve many of our objections. That said, the Jarbidge-Bruneau river system is a national treasure so we’ll continue to monitor the project closely to ensure mining activities don’t harm this special area or downstream users.”
IRU Conservation Associate, Reese Hodges, added, “The willingness of the USFS and Newcrest to address our concerns surrounding this project are commendable. The Jarbidge-Bruneau systems are so incredibly unique and intact, it was imperative that the scope be reduced to ensure that any environmental concerns are minimized, and I believe that all parties saw eye-to-eye on that. We consider the settlements made in light of our raised objections an important step for the conservation of this ecosystem.”
The three Idaho conservation groups filed a formal objection with the Forest Service in May regarding the agency’s determination that the Jarbidge Exploration Project in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest would have no significant impact on the environment. The 24,000-acre project area, adjacent to the Jarbidge Wilderness, includes the headwaters of the Congressionally-designated Wild and Scenic Jarbidge River and its tributaries, and portions of four Inventoried Roadless Areas. The Jarbidge watershed also supports the southernmost population of bull trout in the Lower 48, a species that is federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
In April 2020, the Forest Service released the Environmental Analysis of the potentially detrimental effects from the project and approved a Plan of Operations by Newcrest. The original plan consisted of a 12-year permit that only specified in detail the first phase of proposed activities, which included, but were not limited to, construction of staging areas, 22 drilling sites, nearly 6 miles of new roads, and a stream crossing in critical bull trout spawning habitat.