Gravel mining in the bed of the Salmon River below Riggins isn’t the only operation that has caught the attention of anglers and other river enthusiasts.
When I did my blog and column on the Salmon River gravel mining, I got calls from people who said it wasn’t the worst activity going on in the area of the Salmon that runs along U.S. 95. John Gordon of Boise, a long-time steelhead fisherman, and others asked me to look into a gold mine that seemed as though it was going to wash out and send silt into the river.
I spoke with Jay Sila, manager of the Idaho Department of Land Craig Mountain region from Craigmont. He told me that he had already warned Mike Conklin of Grangeville to move his gold mine near Whitebird farther away from the river, which attracts thousands of floaters, jet boaters and anglers annually.
But it was people who were driving by on the highway that snakes through the canyon along the river who alerted Sila about the mine.
“It’s across the river and we had people drive by and say you need to take a look at that that,” Sila said.
Conklin has a permit that allows him to mine to within 20 feet of the high water mark except during high water. In the spring he must be 30 feet away. Sila sent Lands staff to the site to better mark the high water line to make it easier for him.
Getting a permit to mine above the high water mark is relatively easy, Sila said. There is no automatic need for a public hearing and the process is routine.
But Conklin has applied for a permit to dredge in the riverbed near John Day Creek to mine for gold. That has attracted the Idaho Conservation League’s attention, the same people who opposed the gravel mine.
Gold mining has a long history on the Salmon River. Big mines were operating as late as the 1990s up its tributaries like Jordan Creek up the Yankee Fork.
Dredge mining is a popular hobby on a small scale in the area Conklin is interested in dredging at a more industrial-sized level. The recreational miners suck sand and gravel from the riverbed and retrieve the gold dust and if lucky, nugget from the bottom.
Conklin will face a more stringent permitting process because he will dump the gravel and sand back in the river, which will require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The gravel miner only removed gravel, he didn’t deposit it in the river so there was no federal permit required, Sila said.
Unfortunately for him, the gravel mining has captured a lot of public attention and concern over this stretch of the river. This Land Board and others have considered this area appropriate for mining, in part because it is not designated as a Wild and Scenic River.
Past attempts for such a designation have not been able to make it through the political rapids.
Such protection likely won’t happen unless residents of the Riggins and White Bird areas go along.