Idaho is a unique state. It has a full diverse landscape from high altitude desserts to pine forests. This wide array of beauty is home to many different animals and ecosystems. East Idaho is no exception to this. As it is part of the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem it has rivers full of unique fish including the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. The mountains support the many different animals that migrate through or call it home. These can include migrating elk and deer from different parts of Yellowstone or Grand Teton areas. Grizzlies pass through the northern areas of Eastern Idaho frequently as they travel outside of Yellowstone. By now you might get my point. Idaho, especially the Eastern side of it, is a unique and beautiful area that should be protected not only for its beauty but for the many animals that call its mountains and rivers home. The Kilgore Gold Mining Exploration project poses a threat to this unique area of Idaho.
The Kilgore Gold Mining Exploration Project, we will call it the Kilgore Project from now on, is a project that has been posed by a Canadian mining company in the Eastern Idaho area. The company's name is Excellon Resources and they have many different mining projects across the country as well as in other countries like Mexico. This is a project, if enough gold is found, could last for many years and add up to some quick cash for the company.
What will this project involve?
Well first off it is an exploration project. This means they will be carving out miles of road and clearing large areas of land to set up drills while trying to find areas that have higher amounts of gold. After potential areas are found drills will be set up and the real mining will begin. Rubble will be collected through digging or explosives and then dumped into heap leach pits, in this case most likely a cyanide heap leach pit. The cyanide will help extract small gold particles from the rubble and will be collected in tanks and then further processed to get the gold out of the cyanide solution. Cyanide is usually used in these situations because it is relatively cheap and is pretty effective at getting a reasonable amount of gold out of the rubble.
Cyanide heap leach mines are basically a large area where a plastic tarp is put down. Pipes are place on top and then rubble is dumped on top of that. This process of pipping and covering with rubble is repeated until it becomes well a "heap" or large mound. Cyanide is dripped from the pipping system extracting gold from the rubble and then eventually making its way down to the tarp layer and then gets collected. The cyanide is sometimes pumped through multiple times to increase the amount of gold that is extracted.
Why is this a bad idea?
The area where it is proposed is within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This ecosystem is a key part of many different animals migration and food sources. With the exploration and the carving of many new roads and clearing of land for drilling the landscape will be changed and in cases of mining that change is for good. The BLM, Bureau of Land Management, has passed regulations in the past about that make it a requirement to return the land to habitable landscape after the mining is finished. The problem with this is that there is no regulation on this and so mining companies do not do it. This makes it harder for nature to reclaim the area and make it possible for animals to thrive on the land after mining has finished. Again this is land that is key to many different species of animals like Elk, Mule deer, and Grizzlies.
Another reason why this is a terrible idea is the use of Cyanide in the leaching process. Cyanide mines do not have a great history for being reliable. From incidents in Montana that got the use of Cyanide heap leach mines banned in the state to Grouse creek mine that has poisoned water systems in Idaho. Cyanide heap leach mines are poorly regulated and have the potential cause of leaking into water systems. Cyanide is known to break down rather quickly in water and when exposed to sunlight. This is a common argument about how cyanide can not harm rivers too much due to the fact that it breaks down rapidly in water and sunlight. There have been cases where cyanide that was spilled into waterways did not degrade quickly due to ice cover and cold water leading to massive fish and animal die offs. This happened in Romania in 2000. The other problem is that when cyanide breaks down it breaks down into many different compounds. Not all of these compounds are understood as well as they should be and are not usually monitored by the mining companies because it is not required. They do monitor cyanide and different compounds it breaks down into but only a few of them not all of them. The proposed area for the Kilgore Project is surrounded by many different creeks and headwaters. If a spill were to happen or poor regulation leads to leaking of cyanide into the waters one only needs to imagine what those impacts would be not only on the fish, which can possibly include the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, but the animals that depend on the water in the rivers.
The more I looked into this project the more it seems to be like a quick cash grab by Excellon Resources. It would be at a high cost in my opinion. Wildlife and wild landscape will be altered to the point where it can have serious impacts immediately as well as in the future. One question that crossed my mind frequently through the process of researching this project is, Is this gold really needed? Excellon will of course say yes. They are the ones making money off of it. My personal opinion is frankly, no. We do not need this gold. Gold can be found and collected in many different areas and through other resources that do not include mining.
Cyanide Heap Leach mining has no place in Idaho, especially when it is being done in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This area is too vital for many different animals that depend on it for survival. The impacts of mining are not only huge and will take years to recover from but also the impact of a potential leak or spill of cyanide into the landscape can be catastrophic and take many years to recover from. So what can be done? Well the comment period of the evaluation is closed. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is continuing to keep an eye on this project and continues to update the public and its members about different things going on. They are doing great work, so showing them support in anyway will help. Another thing is to let other people know about this terrible idea. I feel if more people were to know about it and understand the possible problems it could cause for the landscape that they use would help them. How? Well it is the reason why I wrote this. More people need to know, the more that know the louder our voices can be. Making it easier to be heard. So please share this article or the Greater Yellowstone Coalition's article
It is situations like this that makes me reflect on a saying that I always keep in mind. "It is not ours, it is just our turn". This land and its resources are not infinite. The ecosystems that thrive on them can change quickly due to human involvement or natural causes. If we take this land and what it offers to us for granted it will stop giving. It needs to be taken care of and helped for future generations to enjoy it as we have. If you get anything from this just let it be that.