Bull trout in the cold, clear headwaters of the Jarbidge River can now “breathe” easier after recent news that an Australian mining company will no longer pursue a gold exploration project in their spawning grounds. The mining company, Newcrest Mining Limited, had been exploring for gold near the historic mining town of Jarbidge in northern Nevada in the headwaters of the Jarbidge River, but decided to terminate their project based on what they found in their initial exploratory drilling. The Jarbidge begins in northern Nevada and flows north into Idaho to join the Bruneau River. Both the Jarbidge and Bruneau are world class whitewater canyons and designated Wild and Scenic Rivers.
ICL and our conservation partners at Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club engaged early in the permitting process because of concerns over the potential impacts downstream to the Wild and Scenic portion of the river in southern Idaho’s Owyhee Canyonlands. 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.
The original exploration plan proposed by Newcrest and the Forest Service consisted of a 12-year permit that only provided details of the first phase of proposed activities, which included, but were not limited to, constructing 22 drilling sites, building nearly 6 miles of new roads, and authorizing a stream crossing in critical bull trout spawning habitat. By working directly with the Forest Service and Newcrest, those plans were scaled back significantly to better protect the environment. Our involvement led to the following changes from the original proposal:
- A 98% reduction in the number of drill sites and an 88% reduction in surface disturbance.
- Greatly improved water quality monitoring and the development of a groundwater monitoring plan.
- Better safeguards for bull trout at stream crossings, improvements along the transportation route to reduce sediment that could harm fish, and additional monitoring to ensure water quality was protected throughout operations.
We were encouraged that the Forest Service and Newcrest worked with us to make these project improvements, and we’ve been impressed with the comprehensive environmental safeguards that Newcrest put in place for the project since. We are also very pleased that the company has decided to walk away from this mining project in this very sensitive location, as it will eliminate any potential for adverse impacts from additional exploration or full mine development for the time being.
The company’s primary activity for the upcoming field season will be to reclaim their disturbance in the project area, which includes obliterating access roads and drill pads. ICL staff plans to visit the site this summer with representatives from the Forest Service and Newcrest to observe reclamation progress and initiate an eDNA sampling program for bull trout that was agreed to as part of our objection resolution.
Until the Mining Law of 1872 is reformed, places like the Jarbidge River will remain at risk from mining impacts. But at least for now, this specific threat is no more. ICL will continue to work across the state to raise the bar on mining projects where risks can be managed while opposing irresponsible mining projects in highly sensitive locations that could have significant long-term impacts to public health, fish, wildlife, and other resources.
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