Mining is how we end up destroying a lot of greater things.
Big Creek has a really boring name. It is really hard to get to. You really have to want to get there, and even then the issue of your arrival at Big Creek is not assured. If you make it there and didn't forget your rod and reel and barbless hooks, you will likely find out just how special it really is.
The East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River had to have been named by a lawyer who had previously gone mad writing property descriptions. It's a terrible (imagine Charles Barkley saying turrible) name. It has gold, yep, golden colored chinook salmon return to it each year. They swim the gauntlet, commercial and sport fishermen in the ocean, the lower Columbia, the middle Columbia (those dams), the lower Snake (those turrible dams), the Salmon River and just as they see a bunch of anglers lining up on the shores of the South Fork of the Salmon River they get a break and take a left up the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River. The arduous journey doesn't end quite yet. They've got to get past Yellow Pine!!! The harmonicas, the summer residents singing karaoke at the Corner Bar, it's quite the gauntlet already.
And both of these streams are threatened by gold. That shiny, incredible metal mankind can never seem to get enough of, which means it's going to be worth a lot as long as we don't have enough.
Midas Gold, a Canadian company with a local board, wants to put a little less than a mile of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River into a pipe for several years while they mine the gold out of the former stream bed. The salmon are going to be so confused. They're going to think they are in the Holland Tunnel and about to land in the town the so nice they named it twice or the town on the other side of the tunnel named Jersey City. Either way, they are going to be confused to say the least. They'll be questioning if they are Pacific salmon (New York City being on the Atlantic Ocean for the geographically challenged). OK, OK none of that is true except the part about Midas Gold and the river in a pipe, which means salmon will be in a pipe. There are those who say why not put them in a pipe? They climb ladders, they ride in barges, they ride in trucks, some used to ride in airplanes, who needs a current or a spawning ground for that matter? We can just club the females in the head and cut them open for their eggs while we squeeze the males over a bucket full of eggs. You know, the way nature intended. So, pipe, big deal. Well, it is a big deal, a really big and bad deal for salmon and anything else swimming in the river around Midas Gold's holdings. Plus they would make a big earthen dam to hold back their tailings and all their leeching liquids and that's not a problem in a mountainous area that has seen huge mudslides, debris flows and what have you over the past seven years (just to point to the recent ones). So there is a concern here about how resource extraction is threatening salmonids.
I don't know how much you know about mankind's efficiencies and how much we've improved upon them in the name of profit. We are currently efficient enough at fishing to deplete the oceans completely, should we be allowed to. In mining, there are new efficiencies, just like if you were alive in the 1970s and remember those commercials about shale oil with Bob Hope. A couple of things happened that have made the USA self-sufficient in oil production due to efficiencies and market forces. The price of oil went from really cheap to astronomically high, thereby making hydraulic fracturing a viable option for the domestic oil industry and thus we have lived through a boom in the fracking oil bitness. The fan's about to get something all over it due to falling prices and the need to stay in the fracking biz long enough to mitigate those infrastructure investments. Well, it's funny, but in things like gold mining, back in the day, white miners would leave a boom town when their ability to carve out a life from mining gold and silver when their efficiencies were no longer there. Then, typically, Chinese miners came in and got what gold they could get out of the tailings and abandoned claims and then typically these boom towns turned into ghost towns.
Well, mining efficiencies have improved, much to the detriment of the environment. There may be an ounce of gold in a boulder that weighs a couple of thousand pounds. Now, that gold isn't in some wonderful one ounce nugget. Instead, it is in tiny flecks, perhaps in a vein in that boulder. Today, efficiencies in mining allow the ability to crush tons of boulders (rock) in order to extract a very small amount of overly-priced gold. Therefore, the mountains can literally be made low in our gold lust. Of course, we need to do something with all that crushed rock, so we'll fill in some beautiful valley nearby with our tailings pile. And somehow that is deemed alright, a proper practice in a world that I truly wonder if mankind will ever truly care about his destructive footprint on the planet until he collectively looks around and can't find a meal.
Well, not far on a map, but seemingly forever in a car and a hike, we get to another resource extraction problem that ultimately threatens Big Creek and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This resource extraction also threatens salmonids who thought they were safe if their natal spawning grounds were in the middle of designated wilderness. The Golden Hand Mine, which directly affects a small stream (they get to take 25,000 gallons of water from Coin Creek daily) that feeds Big Creek, has gotten the go ahead from the Payette National Forest and an earlier court decision to build a road into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness so they can prove their claims. Well, this is a puzzler. And they get to do this for three years if the Payette's decision is supported in court. Apparently, Judge Winmill ruled in 1987 on this and somehow the narrative of that ruling has turned into a tall tale because his ruling was a limited one and what the Payette is granting AIMMCO certainly isn't limited in scale.
Over on the Salmon Blog, I have written about the Golden Hand Mine on a few occasions. I remember writing something to the effect of "picks and shovels boys, picks and shovels." And something about they would have to hike in and out with those hand tools. Now that is funny and kind of key to this whole mess that is going back to court. Judge Winmill actually told them in 1987 to "use hand labor." The Payette's approved 11 drill pads, lots and lots of truck traffic, skidders and all manner of machinery for this group to prove their claims that probably were completely exhausted back in the early 1930s when it was a working mine and the Wilderness Act didn't exist, not to mention a wilderness named after an Idaho senator.
Now, I should also mention that there has been a setback in the fight against Pebble Mine up in Alaska. Apparently the Alaska Supreme Court has given Pebble Mine new life. Well, that sucks, because that behemoth of a plan to screw up some seriously important area for the largest wild sockeye stronghold in the world really will spell an end to the notion that wild salmon can exist in any of these United States.
The Mining Law of 1872, still the law of the land, needs to be overhauled. Mining in the United States needs serious regulations that go beyond affecting a positive environmental mitigation, but ensure the company can't hide behind its shell corporations whenever it wants to not pony up for reclamation or for disaster cleanup. The bonding that these companies should have to hold, should be 10 to 20 percent of the wealth of the resource these companies get to use to attract investors. So when Midas Gold says they've got $14 billion in the ground and riverbed, well, great you now have to bond for $1.4 to $2.8 billion because the American taxpayer shouldn't have to clean up your mess, like they've always had to clean up every mining company's mess. And the overhauling of the Mining Law should come with provisions to end all claims within designated wilderness.
Yes, I know I should be President, but that job doesn't often go to the person who makes a lot of sense and when it does you can count on the voters to fill Congress with a bunch of folks who don't make any sense at all. That and a lot of cash thrown at the elected folk is how a law passed when Ulysses S. Grant was President is still the law of the land today, kiddies.
Now let's talk about logging briefly. Once upon a time, the South Fork of the Salmon River was THE river for summer chinook. But some timber sales occurred and some hasty and poorly designed logging roads were constructed on all those steep slopes above this once great chinook fishery and then there was a rain on snow event that washed those roads down into the river destroying a once great summer chinook fishery and it hasn't recovered since this event in the 1960s. Yes, the dams haven't helped, but that single event was the trauma those South Fork summer chinook never got over. And that's why any resource extraction needs to be looked at with a microscope and someway to peer into the future (you know by looking at all the damage they've done in the past, that's a pretty good indicator of the future).