The fight to protect the Centennials is just beginning.

Last week, officials from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest ended their 30-day public comment period of the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed Kilgore Exploration Project. As we have expressed before, the draft EA (a “redo” by the U.S. Forest Service after their last attempt was struck down in federal court) does not do a sufficient job of assessing and mitigating for the project’s significant impacts to water quality, wildlife, and fish. 

ICL and our partners at Greater Yellowstone Coalition submitted a lengthy comment letter to the Forest Service expressing our concerns about the project’s effects on public health and the environment as well as the wholesale inadequacy of the EA. In our comments, we identified significant issues with the EA, including:

  • Inadequate analysis regarding sensitive or threatened species such as Yellowstone cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, and whitebark pine
  • Insufficient baseline water quality data for the project site

On the basis of these and other issues, we have asked the Forest Service to conduct a supplemental environmental analysis prior to considering approval of any further exploration.

That’s the short game. The long game is to do everything in our power to head off the possible development of a massive open-pit, cyanide heap leach mine in the heart of the Centennial Mountains, one of Idaho’s truly special places. 

While it’s true that the Forest Service is only considering approval of exploration activities at this time, we know the following to be true:

  • Exploration is a necessary step to mine gold. Mining companies don’t explore for gold without a reason; they explore to find economically viable gold deposits and then extract that gold from the ground.
  • The low-grade gold at Kilgore – just over half a gram of gold per ton of rock – means that the only economically viable way to extract that gold is by open-pit cyanide heap-leach mining. This style of mining is so destructive that it’s banned a mere 10 miles to the north in Montana. 
  • The high price of gold (currently ~$1,800/ounce) makes it more economical for companies to mine gold from low-grade deposits like Kilgore.
  • Excellon Resources (owner of the Kilgore project) has stated to investors that their ultimate goal is to build an open-pit, cyanide heap leach mine, likening Kilgore’s potential to the massive Round Mountain mine in Nevada.

Given what we know, it’s hard not to be worried about the potential for a devastating open-pit mine in the Centennials that fundamentally alters a crucial wildlife corridor and pollutes the headwaters of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. 

Conservation groups, local ranchers, and recreationists are just a few among the many who are opposed to mineral exploration and development at Kilgore.

Here are a few of the comments sent to the Forest Service on this proposal:

My family has had ties to the Kilgore area for generations. I remember as a child going out to help my grandfather farm his ground and do a little fishing with him as well.  Those are cherished memories. Now, my husband and I enjoy camping, trail riding, and exploring the area with our children and granddaughter. We have fished the streams at the base of the Centennial Range and heard the bull elk bugling in the pines. We even had the opportunity to see a young grizzly this past fall. This project would be detrimental to so many aspects of this beautiful area and would take away the opportunity to create memories like those I have with my grandfather. – Katrena, Sugar City 

I have lived and recreated in Idaho for over 30 years. The charm of the Centennial Mountains is their wild nature. My concerns with the Kilgore exploration project are water degradation, noise and visual impact to the area during the exploration drilling phase and more so if the mine is developed. I have often marveled at the clear spring water that surfaces at the Camas National Wildlife Refuge downstream from this project. Clean water is essential to fish, wildlife, communities, farmers, and the Snake River Aquifer. – Marlene, Victor 

There are few places as quiet, beautiful, rich in nature, and untouched by development as this left in our crowded world. During my second visit, I was pregnant with my first child, and the opportunity to be in such a special, pure place during that time motivated me more than ever to want to protect locations like the Centennial Mountains. From the many birds we saw during early morning walks and the bear I spotted on a run along the road, to the incredible flora that thrive here, there are many reasons to forego the temptation to extract minerals in this area. As a mother, outdoor recreationalist, and writer, I’m asking you to reconsider the proposal from Excellon and think about the long-term future, rather than the decade or so ahead. – Maya, Kamas (UT) 

This wild place should be preserved. As a 6th generation Idahoan who grew up in Fremont County I have countless memories of hiking, fishing, and enjoying this beautiful area. The cost to this area is far too great to even consider exploration because there should never be a toxic cyanide poisoning mine allowed here! Let this beautiful place stay wild. We don’t need exploration because we don’t need an open pit cyanide poisoning mine in this area. It would be a travesty. – Shannon, Meridian 

While public lands are multiple use and that does mean that sometimes mining occurs on them, prior to that occurring a thorough assessment needs to be completed – I do not believe that has occurred here and the long-term consequences of allowing this exploration have not been considered.  I truly cherish the Centennial Mountains and hope that you will consider the impact that this decision could have on one of the most spectacular places to exist. – Elizabeth, Pocatello 

I’ve hiked the trails of the Centennials all of my life, with my grandparents and my parents. I’ve seen grizzly bear on the trail to Hancock Lake and caught cutthroat from the streams. I haven’t seen, but value knowing, that the hills and mountains also provide homes to lynx, wolves, perhaps even wolverines. This place is a treasure, one of the last best places in the storied west. Continued gold exploration would certainly degrade important habitat for the wildlife that defines Idaho’s heritage and culture.  – Sarah, Rigby 

If someone woke up on an early September morning in these mountains and took a deep breath of the fresh clean air, the beautiful sunshine gleaming off the frosty morning dew, hearing a bull elk bugle over the ridge, the sound of the crick as it the water races to the aquifer, and the sight of the Idaho rancher moving his cattle down from their summer grazing grounds, they would quickly realize that keeping a place as special as this intact and pure is more of a resource than gold.  – Seth, Sugar City 

At the end of the day, the Centennials are not the right place for gold exploration, let alone a possible full-blown mine down the road. We need YOUR voice to build a grassroots movement to protect this special corner of Idaho. Sign up for our email list to stay in the loop with future opportunities to protect the Centennial Mountains and Idaho’s public lands from mining impacts.

Want to hear more? Tune in to our podcast below to learn the latest on the Kilgore project!