South Fork of the Salmon River among America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2018

People of the South Fork

Click here to see photos and read excerpts from people who know and love the South Fork of the Salmon and want to protect it from new large-scale open-pit mining.

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Washington, D.C.—American Rivers today named the South Fork of the Salmon River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018, citing the threat expanded open-pit gold mining in the area would pose to water quality and river health. American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United call on the U.S. Forest Service to protect the South Fork of the Salmon for future generations by prohibiting the reopening and expansion of the Stibnite Gold Mine at the river’s headwaters.

“This is a critical year for the people of this region to decide what kind of future we want for our rivers and clean water,” said Mike Fiebig with American rivers. “The South Fork Salmon still boasts clear, free-flowing waters, and feeds the beloved Wild and Scenic Main Salmon downstream. It’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to put an end once and for all to toxic mining near this treasured river.”

The South Fork of the Salmon is a major tributary to the Wild and Scenic Salmon River—the second longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. The Shoshone, Nez Perce, Bannock and Paiute tribes have used the river for fishing and hunting for generations. In addition to providing critical habitat for endangered chinook salmon and steelhead and threatened bull trout, the South Fork of the Salmon boasts some of the state’s best expert-level whitewater. The river has been found eligible and suitable for Wild and Scenic protection by the U.S. Forest Service.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now is the time for the people of Idaho and everyone who loves the amazing Salmon River to stand up for clean water protections so we can ensure a positive legacy for future generations,” Fiebig said. 
Gold and antimony mining began at the Stibnite site in the late 1800s. Since then, levels of arsenic, mercury, cyanide and antimony in the surrounding creeks and rivers have been high. After decades and $13 million spent to restore and reclaim legacy tailing and waste rock piles, heavy metals are on the decline.

Now a Canadian mining company has proposed reopening and expanding the open-pit mine. If allowed to proceed, the Stibnite Mine would unearth more arsenic, mercury and antimony that, through natural processes and potential accidents and spills, would deposit directly or indirectly into the South Fork of the Salmon River. Contaminated water will directly affect the fisheries, recreation economy and cultural importance of South Fork waters.

“Mining operations are inherently toxic for rivers,” Fiebig said. “State and federal agencies have worked hard to improve the water quality in this river, and it makes no sense to backtrack. Reopening this mine would have catastrophic repercussions not only for the South Fork of the Salmon River, but also the downstream communities that depend on a healthy Salmon River system for jobs, livelihoods and cultural heritage.”

Idaho Rivers United Conservation Associate Ava Isaacson said people are motivated to save their beloved river from contamination.

“All I have to do is say ‘South Fork of the Salmon,’ and people speak willingly and with conviction,” she said. “People have shown through their engagement how truly valuable and important the South Fork is to them. Citizens of Idaho are speaking loud and clear, and in resounding numbers, that the South Fork is more precious than gold. Idaho is blessed with wild rivers revered around the nation, and the South Fork of the Salmon is one of the state’s best. This is a place where families go to camp and hike, where expert paddlers go to play and our amazing migratory fish go to spawn and renew the circle of life.”

Thousands of business owners, campers, hunters, anglers, rafters, kayakers and others have submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service in opposition to the mine. In August 2018, the Payette National Forest will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Midas Gold proposed project, followed by a public comment period. The U.S. Forest Service must protect the health of the South Fork of the Salmon River by prohibiting the reopening and expansion of the Stibnite Mine.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the river’s’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in past years include the Middle Fork Flatehad River (2017), Smith River (2015, 2016 and 2018), and Clearwater and Lochsa rivers (2014).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

1) Big Sunflower River, MS
Threat—Aermy Corps pumping project
At Risk—Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat

2) Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
Threat—Mining
At Risk—Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture

3) Boundary Waters, MN
Threat—Mining
At Risk—Clean water, recreation economy

4) Lower Rio Grande, TX
Threat—Border wall
At Risk—Clean water, salmon habitat

5) South Fork Salmon River, ID
Threat—Mining
At Risk—Clean water, salmon habitat

6)Mississippi River Gorge, MN
Threat—Dams
At Risk—Habitat, recreation opportunities

7) Smith River, MT
Threat—Mining
At Risk—Clean water, recreation

8) Colville River, AK
Threat—Oil and gas development
At Risk—Clean water, wildlife

9) Middle Fork Vermillion River, IL
Threat—Coal ash pollution
At Risk—Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values

10) Kinnickinnic River, WI
Threat—Dams
At Risk—Blue-ribbon trout stream