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July 26, 2011

Club Helps Restore Habitat to Fend Off New Mine in Idaho


On Saturday, July 23, the Idaho Sierra Club and its partners Trout Unlimited, the Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Idaho Rivers United organized a bucket brigade to water newly planted trees along Grimes Creek—part of an ongoing restoration effort for an area known as the Boise Basin that was dredge-mined a century ago. The basin is now targeted for a controversial mining project that could lead to large-scale open-pit mining.

Together, the Club and its partner groups have joined forces under the banner Idaho Families for Clean Water, a coalition of citizens and groups working together to protect the Boise River. That's Pam Elkovich of Trout Unlimited at left above, on the bucket brigade.


"With the sun hot and the temperature rising fast, more than 40 volunteers gathered at the Centerville, Idaho, community center and drove 3 miles up the dirt road to work side-by-side to water the trees we'd planted in the spring," says Boise-based Sierra Club organizer Jessica Ruehrwein.


Afterward, the group returned to Centerville—once a town of some 8,000 people, now dwindled to a few hundred residents—for a fried-chicken lunch and an afternoon of speakers, presentations, and discussion about the proposed CuMo mine project.


The CuMo Molybdenum Mining Company says the Boise Basin contains the largest deposit of molybdenum in the world, and Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Limited, a Canadian company that has acquired rights to CuMo's claims, is seeking to commence exploratory mining there.

After receiving more than 500 comments from concerned citizens, the Forest Service recently released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the CuMo Exploration Project, which included a Finding of No Significant Impact.

The Mores and Grimes Creek Watershed Restoration Project, a project of Trout Unlimited's Ted Trueblood Chapter for which the Sierra Club volunteers, reclaims abandoned mine sites and reestablishes fish and wildlife habitat. "The idea is both to create a restoration economy and make the area a draw for recreation and fishing by bringing fish back to the stream," says Ruehrwein.

The Forest Service's No Significant Impact decision permits Mosquito to conduct a 5-year mineral exploration in the Boise Basin, including the construction of up to 10 miles of new roads and four new stream crossings. "It is another step toward the development of a large-scale open-pit mine," Ruehrwein says.

Centerville is only about 40 miles from Boise, but it takes well over an hour to make the trip via a winding dirt road. "Nearby Idaho City was once the largest town in the Pacific Northwest," Ruehrwein says, "and the towns of Centerville and Placerville formed a rip-roaring gold mining area, rivaling anything the California '49ers created."

The community recently built a center that is used as a meeting place and as a base for fire fighters in the area. Grimes Creek, which runs past the town, has been decimated by historic dredge mining. Centerville's modern-day residents are struggling to find work and there are a lot of old worn-down buildings in town dating back to the 1860s.

"It's clear why the CuMo mine project is controversial for local residents—there's the allure of a boom, but also the threat the damage it would inevitably wreak on the landscape and surrounding communities," Ruehrwein says.

After what she describes as "back-breaking" bucket brigade work on July 23, the group listened to wildlife biologist Leon Powers, author of The Forgotten Expedition, an account of the 1907 Baker University Biological Expedition that passed through Idaho City and Centerville.


"After lunch, we engaged in an often passionate discussion about the CuMo mine project," says Ruehrwein. "We were pleased to have Ruth Esperanz, the new Idaho City Forest Service District Ranger, join us, along with Idaho State Senator Tim Corder, the EPA's Dave Tomten, and a reporter from The Idaho World, the state's oldest newspaper.

Below, Leigh Lustre of Advocates for the West, a Boise-based group of non-profit public interest attorneys, helps nourish some young saplings along Grimes Creek.


"Building trust in rural Idaho takes time," Ruehrwein says. "An event like this helps forge a sense of community and partnership with the residents of this area, and it strengthens our bond with Trout Unlimited, Idaho Rivers United, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, the EPA, and the Forest Service. We're looking forward to seeing many of the same folks at our 3rd annual Kokanee Outdoor Day in Idaho City on August 6—a day dedicated to the celebration of the river, the Kokanee salmon, and bringing awareness along with economic vibrancy to the community."

Learn more about the Idaho Sierra Club, and the Club's work to protect resilient habitats.


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