Conservation groups claim the process of surveying a prospective gold mine location is environmentally detrimental.
The Idaho Conservation League, along with four other groups and the Nez Perce Tribe, filed an objection with the U.S. Forest Service earlier this month. The objection challenges the Forest Service's approval of American Independence Mines and Minerals Co.'s (AIMMC) plan to reopen a four-mile road in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness. The AIMMC owns two claims in the protected wilderness area, and wants to investigate the viability of those claims.
A federal court sided with the gold mining company in a 2002 ruling, declaring that mining laws and mining in the area predates the wilderness designation. The court decision set limits on certain activities, and the objecting groups contend that AIMMC's plan exceeds those limits.
The approved plan authorizes 571 motorized trips into the wilderness area to construct 11 drill pads to drill core samples. Vehicles specified in the plan include several pickup trucks, a small excavator, and a bulldozer.
Conservation groups disapprove of the disruptive nature of the claim investigation.
"The mining company has many, many less destructive tools available to determine whether these claims are valid that are more appropriate to this special wilderness setting," said Jon Robison of the Idaho Conservation League.
The Nez Perce Tribe's contention concerns their claims to fishing rights in the area. Their objection claims the mining activities will infringe on the fishing rights granted to them in two separate treaties on lands that include the proposed mine.
"The Tribe has invested considerable time and resources in the Big Creek Watershed," said a statement on the objection. "The potential for renewed mining activities such as the Project, however, pose the potential to undermine these accomplishments by negatively affecting the watershed and resources upon which the Tribe depends."
Mining is legal in protected natural areas as part of a compromise in Idaho's 1964 Wilderness Act that recognizes preexisting mining claims.
If the AIMMC can prove the claims are profitable, the company's next step would be to submit a mining plan. If the plan passes the environmental review process, the green light would be given to start mining.