City of McCall Stibnite Lecture Series and the environment

On November 13, the City of McCall concluded their three-part series on the proposed Stibnite Gold Project by discussing potential environmental impacts. The evenings panel consisted of Midas Gold, American Mining Association, The Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Rivers United, NOAA Fisheries, Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

The City of McCall organized the three-part series to engage stakeholders and attempt to get community members questions answered. Midas Gold has asked each community and county of the West Central Mountains to sign their Community Partnership Agreement, a legal contract offering signatories for a seat at “the table” and monetary funds.

The Rally for South Fork. McCall, Idaho.

The Rally for South Fork. McCall, Idaho.

Although Midas claims this Agreement is not a bribe but merely a way to keep communication lines open, IRU and the others are truly skeptical.

The following piece was delivered at the final lecture by Conservation Associate, Ava Isaacson. We would like to thank the City of McCall for honoring their community by gathering information from experts on this contentious issue. We appreciate the invitation to speak and are looking forward to remaining engaged with the Stibnite issue and having additional conversations.

“When asked what I do for work, rather than dive into a dry explanation of the National Environmental Policy Act, I like to say that I am The Lorax for the rivers. You see, most people do not have the sight, wisdom or patience to hear the language of the rivers, the salmon, or the forest. However, I am here tonight to do what I can to translate their messages.

I am a native Idahoan, raised from the fertile hills of the Palouse, the rugged mountains of the Lost River Range, the lush cedars of the Lochsa, and the deserts and hot pools of Central Idaho. From these places, my love for the natural world shaped the woman I am today.

I pursued environmental science in college because I needed to frame my role as a translator for the environment. I received my Master’s degree right here in McCall after being immersed in the University of Idaho’s field campus, the McCall Outdoor Science School.

In fact, my Master’s project was done in coordination with the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce asking visitors and residents what they loved about this place.

Over 1,000 people responded that they come here to get away and seek the beautiful, wild places of the West Central Mountains. This area is defined by unique and remote recreation and stunning landscapes. Solitude seekers and vacationers alike build Valley and Adams County into destinations and for many, home.

Nowhere did anyone mention destructive, open pit mining as a reason for their visit.

During my time in McCall, I had unique opportunities to reflect on additional ways to contribute to my community, the entire state of Idaho. This is what brings me here tonight, as the Conservation Associate of Idaho Rivers United. But really, I am here as an Idahoan. A lover of a preserved and protected West. Unfortunately, much of our great state is at risk from past mining messes, current operations and looming plans for expansion.

When asked to speak about this serious threat to our environment, it is difficult to know where to begin and what to say. The scale of this project is almost totally unfathomable, unless you’ve been to the site, then it becomes truly terrifying. The impacts from on-site operations are so staggering, comprehension is buried, just as Fiddle and Meadow creek are proposed to be.

We are dealing with a mining project proposal, not a restoration plan. When millions of tax dollars funded the United States Forest Service, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to clean-up Stibnite, they were not focused on turning a profit. Why? Because restoration is not about profits. There is no money in restoring a blemished environment, but billions can be made in exploiting it. The smoke and mirrors concept that industry and for-profit companies will spend capital on restoration, cutting into money made, is a fallacy. Restoration is incompatible with profit-motives. As many of you may know, running a business is all about saving money and cutting costs. Where do you think this mining company would cut first?

Canadian Midas Gold Corporation considers “Impact of environmental remediation requirements…on the cooperation’s planned exploration and development activities on the project” to be a risk potential investors need to be made aware. Is reclaiming Stibnite a risk? Shouldn’t it be an honor or a task worthy of celebrating rather than considered a hindrance to the bottom line?

What does the environment have to gain from this project? What do we have to gain from it? I think more importantly, what do we and the environment have to lose?

We are all in the same basket, we are all a part of this ecosystem. Whether you live in Yellow Pine, Riggins, Council or McCall, you are a part of this environment. An ecosystem is defined as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. We are a complex network, an interconnected system. Whether you kayak the South Fork, or drink out of the Salmon River, the consequences of gold mining at Stibnite matter to you.

Even more, when we talk about environmental winners and losers, it could be you if your drinking water has the potential to become contaminated by arsenic. It could be all of us when our community’s identity is ruined by a Star News or Statesman headline about a tailings dam failure. Or, it could be a few, when your favorite fishing, boating, swimming or sitting spot is polluted for generations.

There is no doubt that mining is shortsighted, and the environment will inevitably suffer. It always does during and after mining operations, especially at the scale proposed by this project. We can no longer live in the shortsightedness of extraction, with the few taking the proceeds, and leaving communities with all the costs and none of the gains.

Idaho has seen this before, and heard that this time it will be different. However, I believe that what is at stake, and the only evidence we have to go on should clearly outline a path away from business as usual.

“Environmentally safe and efficient mine.” “State of the art mining” they said during the opening of Grouse Creek mine, a monstrosity scaring Idaho’s backcountry. Hecla assured Idahoans that it would be different this time. Was it?

We are now left with a perpetual cleanup of discharging cyanide, selenium and other heavy metals into the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, a restored and productive salmon fishery. Did that teach us anything? And here we are again, placing faith into the hands of those driven to destroy for the purpose of returns. What makes people eager to trust the untrustworthy so quickly?

Shortsighted mindsets lead to both empty promises of prosperity and expensive, unsatisfactory techno-fixes later.

What do we have to lose? So many things. We are constantly sold offers of a better way, when really, nature has the best way already figured out. The streams of Stibnite are healing themselves as levels of arsenic and antimony are dropping over the last 30 years. Let the waters heal without extraction and tunnels.

We are constantly mending the mistakes of others. A result of this persistent paradigm is a state littered with thousands of abandoned mine sites. Currently, we are trying to figure out how to move past shortsightedness as a global community.

As worldwide temperatures increase, the necessity to preserve Idaho’s backcountry, cold-water streams becomes paramount for the survival of resident and anadromous fish species. Gold mining processes will contribute sediment to streams, increasing temperatures, as well as emit fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

Rivers are born in the mountains. This project is attempting to excavate the womb.

We will lose cold water, headwater steams. We will not gain streams, despite what sculpted public relations campaigns tell us. Idaho cannot lose any of its waters if we are to survive and adapt to the changing climate. This is something we all have to face, together.

We will lose water quality of repairing streams, critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. We will lose ancient sacred grounds, and cherished, internationally renowned paddling waters. We will lose quiet places that we need to feed our weary souls.

During my process of working with American Rivers on the South Fork of the Salmon River, Most Endangered River campaign, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing dozens of passionate people. Everyone spoke eloquently and lovingly about the South Fork drainage. The idea of it being changed draws pain to their hearts. The South Fork area is special to people and ecologically critical to our species.

The entire Salmon River is literally and figuratively the life blood of this state. What would you trade for this river? Would you trade it for shortsighted, profit-driven extraction in the headwaters? If your initial response was not no, I imagine that if you really listen deeply and sincerely, you would come to the conclusion, no. We must not trade any more rivers for private bank account growth. We need these rivers, and they need us to speak for them.

You as a community member, as a member of this ecosystem have nothing to gain from toxic loading of waste rock in our creeks and forests, in exchange for loading of profits for foreign companies.

I am intentionally using the word our, because according to the Public Trust Doctrine, this is all ours. And not all is for the taking. Therefore, one may argue that resource extraction at the cost of many to benefit the few is theft.

Rivers don’t need mining. Idaho does not need mining.

We may think we do, but throughout the course of this battle, ask yourself, do we? Do we need more jewelry or aggressive military supplies? Do we need more pits carved into the earth that will last forever? Do we need more toxic tailing lakes left in perpetuity for our grandchildren to fix?

I ask you to take a step back from the rushes and demands of modernity and a consumptive capitalist society of excess. Take a step back and take a walk through Custer City, Silver City or Warren. Or, drive north a few hundreds miles and ask the people of Kellogg or Smelterville, how do they use their river? They don’t. They cannot. Ask the South Fork of the Coeur d’ Alene River, or the migrating water fowl what their waters are like.

I am honored to be here tonight to offer an alternative perspective, to speak for our species, waters and places that voices fall all too often on deaf ears. I am a native Idahoan, and I love my state. I love Idaho not for what we can take out of the ground, but for what we can preserve and maintain.

I’d like to think that people’s decision making has evolved, but the fact that we are here tonight leads me to believe otherwise. To highlight the longevity of preservation ethos versus shortsighted resource exploitation, a quote from conservation champion, Theodore Roosevelt.

“Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying, “the land belongs to the people!” So it does, and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The “greatest good for the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction, Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the large movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Promises of prosperity at the cost of our environment are all too often appealing to some, just as they have been for generations before us. Now we are left with the scars of poor decisions made that did not have us in mind. This project promises to be different? Maybe. Nevertheless, history is all we have to go on, and if I were placing a bet, I know where I’d put my money. Let us not gamble this time; we know better, we’ve seen what happens when we are wrong. Let us leave something behind we are honored to share with our grandchildren.

In closing, let us not forget that this entire proposal is shortsighted and the consequences, even if all goes according to plan are colossal. We must break the cycle of business as usual so that we may evolve. We can and we must.

Esto Perpetua, Idaho’s motto, Let It Be Perpetual. We must now decide what we want to have in perpetuity. We already have Superfund sites and toxic rivers. Let Idaho be perpetually beautiful and pristine, the way it was meant to be. Leave the metals in the ground and walk away. Let our legacy be that of perpetually making the right decisions, and remove the fear of losing what we love. Esto Perpetua.”

All of the lectures were recorded and can be found here.