South Fork Salmon River again named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Mining threatens clean water, salmon for third year in a row

April 14, 2020

Contact:
Scott Bosse, American Rivers, (406) 570-0455, sbosse@americanrivers.org
Nic Nelson, Idaho Rivers United, (208) 343-7481, nic@idahorivers.org
Evan Stafford, American Whitewater, (970) 420-5377, evan@americanwhitewater.org
Fred Coriell, Save the South Fork Salmon, (208) 315-3630, savethesouthfork@gmail.com

Washington, D.C. – For the third year in a row, American Rivers named the South Fork of the Salmon River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. The report cites the threat that a massive open-pit gold mine in the river’s headwaters poses to endangered fish and some of Idaho’s most beloved rivers. American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Forest Service to protect the South Fork Salmon by denying the mining proposal.

“Naming the South Fork of the Salmon as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers for three consecutive years sends a powerful message,” said Scott Bosse with American Rivers. “This is a river that has slowly been on the mend from past mining activity that had devasting impacts on its water quality and resident and migratory fish populations. The last thing it needs right now is a huge new open pit mine that’s being disguised as a restoration project. It’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to kill this project.”

Gold and antimony mining began at the Stibnite Mine near the rivers’ headwaters in the late 1800s. Since then, levels of arsenic, mercury, cyanide and antimony in the surrounding creeks and rivers have been high. After decades and $13 million spent to restore and reclaim legacy tailing and waste rock piles, heavy metals are on the decline. A Canadian mining company named Midas Gold has proposed reopening and expanding the open-pit mine. If allowed to proceed, Stibnite would unearth more arsenic, mercury and antimony that, through natural processes and potential accidents and spills, would deposit directly or indirectly into the South Fork of the Salmon River.  The company proposes to route the river into a 0.8 mile long tunnel to facilitate mining beneath the riverbed, and mine wastes stored on site would bury hundreds of acres of aquatic habitat.  These impacts will directly affect the fisheries, recreation economy and cultural importance of South Fork waters.

“The South Fork of the Salmon River and its tributaries are critical habitat for Chinook Salmon, Steelhead, and Bull Trout; all are listed species under the Endangered Species Act. It hosts high-elevation spawning habitat, which is especially important in the face of a changing climate.  These fish are vital to the nutrient cycle in the watershed’s ecosystem.  The cumulative impacts, including burying tributaries under million of tons of mine waste must be evaluated without the influence of a mining company’s bottom line,” said Fred Coriell with Save the South Fork Salmon.

“The South Fork of the Salmon River is a quintessential whitewater paddling watershed, with numerous quality roadside runs and one of the west’s most classic multi-day self-support trips. It’s crystal clear free-flowing water, wild scenery, and incredible rapids make it a veritable whitewater paradise and a draw for paddlers worldwide. The South Fork also flows directly into the Wild and Scenic Salmon River, where mining contaminants would affect not only the water quality of the incredible South Fork, but also of the Main Salmon, one of the most sought after permitted multi-day raft runs in the country, second only to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Multiple rural economies in Idaho rely heavily on these forms of river recreation intimately tied to the pristine water quality and unmarred wilderness of the Salmon River drainage,” said Evan Stafford with American Whitewater.

In spring 2020, the Payette National Forest will release a draft environmental impact statement on Midas Gold’s proposed project, followed by a public comment period. American Rivers and its partners call on the U.S. Forest Service to protect the health of, and investment in, the South Fork of the Salmon River, the water quality of the Wild and Scenic Salmon River, and the long-term recovery of endangered fish by prohibiting the reopening and expansion of the Stibnite Mine.

The South Fork of the Salmon River flows 86 miles from the Salmon River Mountains to the Wild and Scenic Salmon River. Despite a long history of logging, road building and mining, the South Fork Salmon boasts clear, free-flowing waters and undisturbed spawning habitat for endangered bull trout, chinook salmon and steelhead. It supports a thriving recreation economy in central Idaho. The river has also been the ancestral fishing and hunting grounds for Shoshone Bannock, Shoshone Paiute and Nez Perce tribes since time immemorial.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in past years include the South Fork of the Salmon River (2018, 2019), Middle Fork Flathead River (2017), Smith River (2015, 2016, 2018), and the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers (2014).

AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2020

#1 Upper Mississippi River (Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin)

Threat:  Climate change, poor flood management

#2 Lower Missouri River (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas)

Threat:  Climate change, poor flood management 

#3 Big Sunflower River (Mississippi)

Threat:  Yazoo pumps project

#4: Puyallup River (Washington)

Threat:  Electron Dam

#5: South Fork Salmon River (Idaho)

Threat:  Gold mine

#6: Menominee River (Michigan, Wisconsin)

Threat:  Open pit sulfide mining

#7: Rapid Creek (South Dakota)

Threat:  Gold mining

#8: Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida)

Threat:  Titanium mining

#9: Ocklawaha River (Florida)

Threat:  Rodman Dam

#10: Lower Youghiogheny River (Pennsylvania)

Threat:  Natural gas development

River of the Year: Delaware River (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland)

Honored as a national success story for restoration and a model for equitable and innovative clean water solutions.

ABOUT AMERICAN RIVERS

American Rivers believes every community in our country should have clean water and a healthy river. Since 1973, we have been protecting wild rivers, restoring damaged rivers and conserving clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and offices across the country, we are the most effective river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions that will last for generations to come. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org.