BOISE – An environmental group said Tuesday it had sued the state after the governor and other officials approved a plan to dredge the Salmon River for gold – an operation some contend will harm migrating fish habitat and create hazards for anglers.
The Idaho Conservation League announced it had asked a 4th District Court judge to require the state to approve a reclamation plan before signing off on any mining projects.
In September, Grangeville miner Mike Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board, giving him sole access to a half-mile stretch of river about 13 miles downstream of Riggins where he can mine the gravel for precious metal.
The environmental group contends Gov. Butch Otter and the other board members ignored laws meant to protect Idaho’s water, arguing that miners who use gasoline-powered suction dredges often leave big holes in the riverbed that damage valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead.
“Before anyone goes onto our lands which need to be protected for the benefit of water quality, fisheries and wildlife, and public health and safety, miners need to submit a restoration plan,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer of the environmental group. “If there’s anywhere there ought to be a high level of scrutiny, it’s in the bed of the Salmon River, which is one of the gems of Idaho.”
Eric Wilson, minerals program manager, told the Land Board in August that regulation of recreational dredgers such as Conklin falls to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and the Department of Lands only has jurisdiction over awarding a lease.
Some anglers have also opposed Conklin’s permit, saying it will hurt popular steelhead fishing areas and create hazardous holes people could fall into.
The Idaho Conservation League says a judge should reverse the Land Board’s order granting Conklin a lease.