South Fork Payette threatened by 37 new mining claims

Click to expand the view of proposed mining claims along the South Fork of the Payette River near Lowman.

One of the most popular sections of the South Fork of the Payette River has become threatened by 37 new mining claims. If developed the claims could dramatically rearrange the area from Lowman to Sourdough Lodge, including lands adjacent and close to the popular Kirkham Hot Springs.

On Aug. 28, a company from Starr, Idaho and three other individuals staked the claims along the South Fork of the Payette upstream of Lowman north of Five Mile Creek. 

The Boise National Forest is contesting the claims, and earlier this month Idaho Rivers United filed comments in support of the Forest Service position. Any mining on the South Fork would directly jeopardize critical bull trout habitat, compromise Wild and Scenic outstandingly remarkable values, and disturb recreation on and off this incredibly popular section of the river. 

The South fork of the Payette is renowned across Idaho and the Pacific Northwest as a premier paddling destination. The roughly 11-mile section in question boasts some of the river’s finest whitewater, including several class III and IV rapids. The river itself, Kirkham Hot Springs, two federal campgrounds, several small businesses and a number of private homes would be directly impacted if the cited mining claims were developed. 

An unfortunate reality all too clear for Idahoans and others in the West “blessed” with buried minerals is extraordinary spaces ruined forever for shortsighted gains. Due to the antiquated Mining Law of 1872, land management agencies are rarely left with management options. In the case of the South Fork of Payette, however, the Forest Service has several.  

The claims are located within the impact area of a previously identified hydropower site, and that creates a legal toehold. The Mining Claims Rights Restoration Act of 1955 establishes the ability for the federal government to contest placer mining in areas historically set aside for hydropower development. The law essentially prioritizes hydropower development over mineral extraction.

Using this law, Forest Service attorneys have filed to contest the claims in federal court, and there should be a hearing before an administrative law judge early in 2018.