Boise, ID  – The U.S. District Court ruled in favor of conservationists, finding that a U.S. Forest Service decision approving a mining company’s plan to deploy bulldozers, dump trucks and drilling rigs miles inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness violates the Wilderness Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The court decision invalidates the company’s mining plan and requires the Forest Service to conduct further analysis of the proposed mining exploration and evaluate less invasive alternatives for activities in the Wilderness.

The lawsuit was filed by the Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, The Wilderness Society, Friends of  the Clearwater, and Wilderness Watch.

The lawsuit challenged the final decision by the Payette National Forest, issued on June 22, 2015, to  approve American Independence Mines and Mineral’s (AIMMCO) Golden Hand Mine proposal to conduct additional mineral  sampling to determine whether  two mining claims within the Frank Church Wilderness are valid mining claims.  Validating these claims is a necessary step for the mining company to proceed with any mineral  development or production plans.

The mining claims are located three miles inside the Frank Church Wilderness in the headwaters of Big  Creek, a tributary to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Forest Service decision, which the court  invalidated, would have allowed AIMMCO to make 571 truck trips into and back out of the Wilderness  each summer during the three-year project. AIMMCO would have also used dump trucks, bulldozers and  drilling rigs to open roads, clear drill pads and excavate trenches within the wilderness.

"Wilderness areas are afforded the highest level of protection of any federal public land in our nation," said Bryan  Hurlbutt, attorney with Advocates for the West. "Even when a mining company has some  rights within wilderness, its workers can walk through the wilderness like the rest of us, and any mining  activities must be limited to the absolute minimum."

"The law requires special protections from mining operations in congressionally-designated Wilderness,  and the court correctly ruled that the Forest Service failed to meet these high standards," noted  Roger  Flynn, attorney with the Western Mining Action Project  which represented the groups along with  Advocates for the West.

"Thousands of people who hike, hunt, fish and float in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness  spoke out against this project," said  John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League. "The Court ruled  that the Forest Service has to find a better balance and work harder to protect the public’s rights and  Wilderness values."

"The Frank Church Wilderness is a national treasure that deserves the utmost protection against  needlessly destructive mining activities," said  Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. "We’re pleased the court is  requiring a more thorough analysis of less harmful measures."

"The court has granted a necessary reprieve to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness,"  stated  George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. "Now it’s up to the Forest Service to show  a far greater concern for the Wilderness if or when it completes the court-ordered reanalysis of this terribly  destructive mining plan."

Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater  said, "This is good news for the wild heart of Idaho. The  Forest Service must do a better job in protecting the remarkable character of the this large and amazing  Wilderness."

The federal 1872 Mining Law holds precedence over public land, even though it has not been significantly revised in nearly 150 years. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, and others have introduced H.R. 963, the  Hardrock Mineral Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015. The act would empower state, local and tribal  governments to petition federal authorities to withdraw lands from mining to protect drinking water, wildlife  habitat, cultural and historic resources, or other important values.

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

A copy of the court decision is available  here.

For more information:

  • John Robison, Idaho Conservation League, 208-345- 6933 x 13,
  • Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882- 9755,
  • Craig Gehrke, The Wilderness Society, 208-343- 8153 x2,
  • Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks, 406-549- 7361,
  • George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542- 2048,
  • Bryan Hurlbutt, Advocates for the West, 208-342- 7024 x206,
  • Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project, 303-823- 5738,