Winter began early in West Central Idaho, with our first significant snows arriving in early November, ushering in a holiday season full of brisk mornings and numerous opportunities to enjoy the wonders found in Idaho’s mountains and valleys. Several ICL staff members spent much of the last quarter of 2022 and the opening of 2023 working to safeguard and protect the South Fork Salmon River and adjacent lands from impacts associated with a proposed open pit gold mine.

In late October, the U.S. Forest Service released its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the proposed Stibnite Gold Project. The proposed open pit, cyanide heap-leach mine is located east of Cascade and McCall in the headwaters of the East Fork South Fork Salmon River. ICL and our partners identified numerous concerns with the mining project, including unacceptable impacts to fisheries, wildlife, and water quality, to name a few. The proposal also comes with significant concerns regarding transportation and impacts to roadless and Wilderness areas.

The public had until January 10, 2023 to submit comments, and ICL and our partners submitted a comment package of over 350 pages of substantive comments, plus appendices of our specialist reports. Thank you to everyone who spoke up for the South Fork Salmon River and voiced their concerns over the flawed mine plan. We have asked the Forest Service to reject both alternatives or develop new alternatives in a Revised Supplemental DEIS. Any new mine plan they develop must be more protective of public health, clean water, and fish, and avoid the decades of arsenic pollution the proposed mine would create. Although the comment period has ended, ICL continues to evaluate the project as we follow through with objections to the air quality permit to construct and various water rights applications. To stay updated on this issue, sign up for email alerts.  

December also brought an unexpected victory to Valley County residents and supporters of United Payette (UP), the collaborative working to conserve McCall area State endowment lands. ICL is a founding member of UP, and provides fiscal sponsorship for the growing collaborative. Following September’s largely unsuccessful auction of Cougar Island, in early December the sole auction bidder and Cougar Island parcel lessee closed on the 2.52-acre property, moving it from State to private ownership. The Payette Land Trust (PLT), an UP partner, helped establish a conservation easement on the property, which was designed to limit future development and commercial uses on this key parcel of the island.

The easement also restricts the owner from granting access easements through the property to other parcels, does not allow for the sharing of established utilities with other parcels, and prevents using the property as a vacation rental. PLT Executive Director Craig Utter describes the easement as a ‘Win, Win, Win.’ 

“This is a win for PLT, the members of United Payette Coalition, and area residents who have worked so diligently for the past year to conserve Cougar Island as it exists now. It’s a win for an Idaho family that wanted to own the land under their home, a home they have owned for over 10 years. It’s a win for the State Endowment, the sale will add over $2 million to the Endowment Fund.” 

Although UP did not contribute funds toward the purchase of the easement, the collaborative has donated to the easement’s stewardship fund, which supports monitoring efforts and provides funding toward future easement legal defense, should that prove necessary. As 2023 begins, UP prepares to move onward and UPward toward achieving additional conservation goals.

ICL’s work to improve watershed conditions and restore our forests will continue in 2023 through our collaborative efforts on the Payette and Boise National Forests and throughout Idaho. We are also exploring a variety of measures that would provide assurances to protect the water quality of Big Payette Lake and improve conditions at Cascade Reservoir. In the meantime, we encourage you to get out, breathe deeply, and allow your eyes to soak up all the beauty and peace that Idaho’s public lands provide.  Happy New Year!

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