Citing uncertain impacts to water quality and other resources, three conservation groups filed their opening brief in court last Tuesday to stop the CuMo mineral exploration project from moving forward in the headwaters of the Boise River.

The brief was filed by public interest law firm Advocates for the West and the Western Mining Action Project on behalf of Boise-based Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and Golden Eagle Audubon Society.

The brief charges the U.S. Forest Service with failing to protect water quality, among other resources, when it approved the five-year mineral exploration project. As approved, mining company Idaho CuMo Corporation plans to build an extensive road network and drill up to 259 exploration holes deep underground in the Boise National Forest. The brief asks the U.S. District Court for Idaho to overturn the project approval.

"Too many mining projects have placed plants, animals and water sources at risk from lack of foresight and planning. The Forest Service needs to do a better job," said Golden Eagle Audubon Society program leader Pam Conley.

The exploration was first approved in 2011, but has been stopped since August 2012 after the court found that the Forest Service had failed to consider and protect against water quality impacts. Water at the project site eventually flows into the Boise River.

"The exploration site is dissected by numerous creeks and streams, some of which run by hazardous historic mining waste," said Idaho Rivers United Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. "But the Forest Service signed off on exploration yet again without understanding how CuMo’s extensive underground drilling can alter water flows and cause contamination."

"A number of problems have already arisen during this preliminary step of mine exploration at the site," said Idaho Conservation League Public Lands Director John Robison. "Permitting a massive open pit mine, as CuMo says it hopes to do, is going to be far more complicated."