BOISE — The U.S. District Court in Boise ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Forest Service acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in approving a Canadian mining company’s permit to explore for gold in eastern Idaho’s Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

In his ruling, Judge B. Lynn Winmill determined the Forest Service failed to adequately consider the project’s potential impacts on water quality and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. He required the Forest Service to establish a baseline to detect any degradation of water quality and determine the project’s effects on the fish, which is listed as a “sensitive species.”

“This is good news as the project is on hold for now. Streams flowing from the area support trout, provide water for irrigation and aquifer recharge, and eventually flow through the Camas Creek National Wildlife Refuge and into Mud Lake. Mining activities  have the potential to put all this at risk,” said the Idaho Conservation League’s John Robison.

“Idaho’s water is more important than gold. It’s the lifeblood of our state and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Any mining or exploration needs to ensure that the resources we value in Idaho, water, wildlife and productive farmland, are protected. This ruling does that,” stated Kathy Rinaldi, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s Idaho Conservation Coordinator. 

“The Court’s ruling affirms that the Forest Service must fully assess impacts to water and sensitive species before approving mining exploration,” said Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, and one of the lawyers on the case. “There should be no doubt: water is more precious than gold in Idaho. We will vigilantly enforce the law to protect our water, fish and wildlife.”  

ICL and the GYC, represented by Advocates for the West and the Western Mining Action Project, filed their lawsuit against the Forest Service in Nov. 2018. The suit challenged an Aug. 2018 decision by the agency to grant Otis Gold Corp. of Canada a five-year permit to explore for low-grade gold in a wildlife migration corridor and farming region in the Centennial Mountains near Kilgore, ID. 

The project site is located about 50 miles west of Yellowstone National Park in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The project covers 20-square miles and is adjacent to the popular Steel Creek Campground area frequented by hunters and anglers. 

Otis Gold plans to construct over 10 miles of temporary road, clear up to 140 drill pads and drill up to 420 exploration holes. If enough gold is detected, the mining company would move forward with plans for an open-pit mine and use a cyanide leaching pool for extraction. Cyanide gold mining has left a legacy of pollution in Idaho and other states. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mining is the number one toxic polluter in the United States. Open-pit cyanide heap leach mining is banned just a few miles to the north in Montana after a series of accidents poisoned wells and left taxpayers with enormous cleanup costs. Montana’s Zortman-Landusky mine disaster contaminated local streams and rivers, pouring more than 52,000 gallons of cyanide solution into the aquifer, killing local wildlife, and costing taxpayers more than $77 million dollars to date – and the clean-up still isn’t complete.