The Land Board will vote Tuesday on a five-year lease to dredge-mine the Salmon River below Riggins for gold.
The vote comes after the board delayed the vote for a month asking for further review by its staff. The staff came back and not surprisingly recommended the leases for the gold mining again despite concerns raised by river users, concerned citizens and conservationists.
Only one other lease has been issued for a gold mining operation in the bed of a river in Idaho, also in the Salmon River near Slate Creek. The State receives combined annual rental and royalty payments of $420 for that lease.
This lease will bring an annual rental rate of $160 and a prepaid royalty of $1,300.
Suction dredge miners use floating gasoline-powered dredges to suck up tons of sand and gravel from the bed of the river in an effort to extract flakes of gold. The Idaho Department of Water Resources actually regulates the mining while the Land Board only approves the lease. The Idaho Department of Lands staff said in a memo that only “small amounts of gold are generally collected.”
Anglers and others want the state board to weigh this return against the values of salmon and steelhead, including fall chinook that spawn in the area.
“The science is clear —in-stream mining can harm fisheries and aquatic habitat," said Jennifer Pierce, a Boise State University professor of geosciences, who has studied the effects of in-stream mining on rivers. “Suction dredge mining by definition turns the bottom of the stream upside down. Entire sections of stream channel are altered in the process.”
In its memo, Lands staff said the board would meet its legal obligations to balance water quality, wildlife, recreation and other public concerns if it approved the mining. But environmentalists and anglers aren’t convinced.
“The Salmon River is one of Idaho’s true gems,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League. “There are lots of places to mine in Idaho – but there’s only one Salmon River.”