Josh Johnson, Conservation Associate, ICL, (208) 345-6933 x 201
Kathy Rinaldi, Idaho Conservation Coordinator, GYC, (208) 709-4543
Kilgore gold exploration project still a concern
Proposed project threatens water quality and key habitat for fish and wildlife
BOISE — On Tuesday, January 12, the U.S. Forest Service released a new Draft Environmental Assessment for a 3-5 year gold exploration proposal in the Centennial Mountains near Kilgore, about 80 miles north of Idaho Falls on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The Idaho Conservation League and Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s preliminary analysis of the agency’s draft reveals that proposed intensive road construction and drilling would degrade important habitat for endangered or imperiled species like grizzly bears, lynx, whitebark pine, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
The latest proposal by Canadian mining company Excellon Resources is nearly identical to one that ICL and GYC – represented by Advocates for the West and the Western Mining Action Project – successfully challenged in federal court in early 2020. In that decision, the judge ruled that the Forest Service failed to evaluate the impacts of drilling operations to water quality and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a Forest Service “sensitive species.” The ruling held that exploration activities at Kilgore could not proceed until the Forest Service adequately addressed these issues.
In the new Draft Environmental Assessment, the Forest Service is once again trying to approve Excellon’s large-scale mine exploration on public lands in the Centennial Mountains at the expense of fish, wildlife, and water quality, even though serious questions remain about Excellon’s impacts.
Josh Johnson, ICL’s conservation associate, said, “Despite losing in court once already, Excellon Resources is back again for another chance to profit off our public lands while jeopardizing a key wildlife corridor in the Northern Rockies. If this project goes forward, it’s not just public lands, fish, and wildlife that stand to lose — hunters, anglers, and recreationists will directly feel the brunt of these negative impacts.”
He added that ICL and GYC will be conducting a more comprehensive review of the Draft Environmental Assessment and supplemental documents in the coming weeks.
Kathy Rinaldi, GYC’s Idaho conservation coordinator, said, “Simply put, this new EA is basically the same as the old one. It does little to address our concerns about fish habitat and water quality impacts to this rugged and vital landscape. Idahoans deserve more than a cursory rubber stamp when it comes to their wildlife and water resources.”
If the Forest Service approves the Kilgore Project on the basis of this assessment, what follows will be a 3-5 year comprehensive drilling program that includes the construction of 130 drilling stations and 10.2 miles of new roads within the rugged and wild Centennial Mountains. Drill pads will be operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entirety of the drilling season.
If Excellon determines they have found enough gold to make mining the area profitable, the company plans to develop an open-pit mine that includes cyanide leaching pools to extract the gold. Open-pit, heap leach, cyanide gold mines – outlawed in neighboring Montana – pose significant threats to human health and the environment, as these types of mines often leak or spill toxic contaminants from the mine site into adjacent waters. The project area is at the headwaters of Camas Creek, which flows into the Camas National Wildlife Refuge and Mud Lake. This water supply is an important source of irrigation water and replenishes the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
The 30-day comment period initiated by the release of the Draft Environmental Assessment provides an opportunity for Idahoans to weigh in on the proposed exploration project and voice their concerns about its impacts to the area’s water, wildlife, and outdoor recreation access.
ICL and GYC look forward to working with the Forest Service and Excellon Resources to develop an alternative that ensures Idaho’s clean water, healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and access to public lands are meaningfully prioritized in any project seeking to profit off Idaho gold.
ICL works to ensure that mining activities don’t threaten human health, special places or Idaho’s clean water. ICL scrutinizes proposed new mines, improves those that are acceptable and fights those that are not in Idaho’s best interests. Visit ICL online at www.idahoconservation.org.
GYC is a conservation organization that works with people to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, now and for future generations. GYC has a long history of reviewing mining projects to protect a vision of a healthy and intact Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where critical lands, waters, and wildlife are adequately protected. Visit GYC online at www.greateryellowstone.org