Hundreds of Idahoans say they're concerned about South Salmon mine proposal

With IRU event attendance as the measure it’s clear the specter of mining in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon river is a threat Idahoans are taking seriously.

At separate gatherings in Boise and McCall the past two weeks hundreds of Idahoans gathered to share why they love the South Fork of the Salmon. The river’s clear, cold waters are a draw for kayakers, fish lovers and campers. Moreover, people who live downstream said they’re concerned what might happen if toxic mine pollution ends up in the river.

“The big question for us as Idahoans, or even Americans, is to think about: What is the value of a place, and what are we putting at risk?” said Will Stubblefield, a whitewater kayaker and NOLS instructor who spoke at Sockeye Brewing in Boise. “From my perspective, it’s interesting to hear the plans for the mine, but we all need to be asking ourselves: What would we lose in the event there’s a mistake? What would we do once we finally lost that resource?”

IRU organized the two gatherings following the April 10 release of a report detailing America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The South Fork of the Salmon was listed as 2018’s fifth most endangered river because of the threat of large-scale, open-pit mining proposed by Midas Gold. Midas is a Canadian company that’s submitted a massive proposal to reopen and expand the historic mining district at Stibnite in the headwaters of the South Fork.

The IRU events at Sockey Brewing in Boise and Salmon River Brewing in McCall offered platforms for citizens to express their concerns, ask questions and share stories without judgement.

People who attended the meetings said they feel like their opinions about the mine don’t have platforms and characterize the fight to protect the South fork as a true David and Goliath story.

“Offering multiple venues for people to share their concerns and have meaningful dialogue is changing the conversation around the Stibnite Project,” said IRU Conservation Associate Ava Isaacson, who organized the events. “Both in McCall and Boise, dozens of people offered their South Fork stories, and their values about the river and watershed.”

McCall resident Wesley Keller has kayaked the South Fork of the Salmon River dozens of times, but he also understands the drainage from a more nuanced and cultural perspective. As a project leader for the Nez Perce Tribe, he works on fish biology issues in the South Fork basin. While he said he doesn't want to try to speak for tribal members, it's clear that the basin is important to them.

“The Nez Perce Tribe go to Rapid River (near Riggins) to feed their families,” he said. “They go to the South Fork to feed their souls.”

Another McCall resident, Jared Alexander, has kayaked the South Fork and its tributaries numerous times. "The only gold that matters in this Midas Gold plan is the South Fork of the Salmon,” he said. “That's gold worth protecting.”

IRU is still seeking to expand the People of the South Fork story project. Please send your stories, and a picture of yourself, to Ava Isaacson at ava@idahorivers.org.

Banner photo of kayaker Nathan Todd speaking at Salmon River Brewery by Ava Isaacson