South Fork Salmon Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2019

April 16, 2019

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


Mike Fiebig, American Rivers, (406) 600-4061

Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United, (208) 343-7481

Evan Stafford, American Whitewater, (970) 420-5377

Washington, D.C. – For the second year in a row, American Rivers named the South Fork of the Salmon River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing the threat expanded open-pit gold mining in the area would pose to water quality and river health. American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Forest Service to protect the South Fork of the Salmon for future generations by denying the proposal for the Stibnite Gold Mine at the river’s headwaters.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year,” said Mike Fiebig with American Rivers. “The South Fork Salmon still boasts clear, free-flowing waters, and feeds the beloved Wild and Scenic Main Salmon downstream. It’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to put an end once and for all to toxic mining near this treasured river.”

The South Fork of the Salmon is a major tributary to the Wild and Scenic Salmon River— the second longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. The Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute tribes have used the river for fishing and hunting for generations. In addition to providing critical habitat for endangered chinook salmon and steelhead and threatened bull trout, the South Fork of the Salmon boasts some of the state’s best expert-level whitewater. The river has been found eligible and suitable for Wild and Scenic protection by the U.S. Forest Service.

Gold and antimony mining began at the Stibnite site 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 has proposed reopening and expanding the open-pit mine. If allowed to proceed, the Stibnite Mine 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. Contaminated water will directly affect the fisheries, recreation economy and cultural importance of South Fork waters.

“The South Fork Salmon is an ecological and recreational gem for Idahoans and citizens from across America,” said Kevin Lewis, Executive Director at Idaho Rivers United. “Corporate profits from large-scale mining operations should not take priority over the many societal values already provided by a healthy Salmon River. The failures of the mining industry weigh heavily on rivers across this nation – we can ill afford to add the South Fork Salmon to that list.”

“There’s no doubt that the South Fork Salmon River provides some of the most quality whitewater recreation in the United States. The clean, crisp and crystal-clear water of the South Fork is one of its greatest allures, and combined with its quintessential Idaho rapids, the river draws paddlers from across the world,” said Evan Stafford, Communications Director at American Whitewater. “With numerous excellent roadside stretches and one of the West’s most classic multi-day self-support trips, excellent camping and nearby hot springs, it’s a destination on many paddlers’ bucket lists and a place that deserves to be protected.”

“Mining operations are inherently toxic for rivers,” said Fiebig. “State and federal agencies have worked hard to improve the water quality in this river, and it makes no sense to backtrack. Reopening this mine would have catastrophic repercussions not only for the South Fork of the Salmon River, but also the downstream communities that depend on a healthy Salmon River system for jobs, livelihoods and cultural heritage.”

In August 2019, the Payette National Forest will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on Midas Gold’s proposed project, followed by a public comment period. American Rivers and its partners called 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 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), Middle Fork Flathead River (2017), Smith River (2015, 2016, & 2018), and the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers (2014).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019

#1 Gila River, New Mexico
Gov. Grisham must choose a healthier, more cost-effective way to provide water to agriculture than by drying up the state’s last major free-flowing river.

#2 Hudson River, New York

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must consider effective, nature-based alternatives to storm-surge barriers that would choke off this biologically rich tidal estuary.

#3 Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri

State and federal agencies must enforce laws that prohibit illegal levees, which increase flood risk for communities and degrade vital fish and wildlife habitat.

#4 Green-Duwamish River, Washington

Local leaders must produce a flood protection plan that safeguards communities and restores habitat for chinook salmon — fish that are essential to the diet of Puget Sound’s endangered orca whales.

#5 Willamette River, Oregon

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must immediately improve 13 dams to save wild chinook salmon and steelhead from going extinct.

#6 Chilkat River, Alaska

The Japanese investment firm, DOWA, must do the responsible thing and back out of a mining project that could decimate native salmon.

#7 South Fork Salmon River, Idaho

The U.S. Forest Service must safeguard endangered fish by denying a mining proposal that could pollute this tributary of the Wild and Scenic Salmon River.

#8 Buffalo National River, Arkansas

Gov. Hutchinson must demand closure of an industrial hog-farming facility that pollutes groundwater and threatens endangered species.

#9 Big Darby Creek, Ohio

Local leaders must use state-of-the-art science to craft a responsible development plan that protects this pristine stream.

#10 Stikine River, Alaska

The International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada must protect the river’s clean water, fish and wildlife, and indigenous communities by stopping harmful, polluting mines.

2019’s “River of the Year”: Cuyahoga River, Ohio

American Rivers celebrates the progress Cleveland has made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River, fifty years since the river’s famous fire that sparked the nation’s environmental movement.


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. Connect with us at