Forest Service withdraws Midas' Salmon River prospecting permit again

The U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn its approval of Midas Gold’s prospecting project along the South Fork of the Salmon River near Yellow Pine.

The agency said it needed to do further analysis after the Idaho Conservation League and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a lawsuit. Midas had already retooled the project after the tribe and ICL challenged it successfully in 2013.

The Canadian company seeks to find gold and antimony in the historic Stibnite District that was mined from 1928 to 1997, leaving a big mess that had been reclaimed. The Forest Service had previously approved the three-year exploration project that would drill 178 core holes in 26 drill areas.

The challenge any mining company has is that the site is at the end of 70 miles of winding roads along the South Fork of the Salmon, Johnson Creek and the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River. These rivers are home to the highest elevation habitat for summer Chinook salmon in the entire Columbia River Basin, as well as steelhead, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout.

The lawsuit said the project would violate federal laws and posed a threat to the Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, which are all listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“We are pleased with the Forest Service’s decision to withdraw its approval of the Project,” said John Robison, public lands director of the Idaho Conservation League. “While we appreciate the attempts by Midas Gold and the Forest Service to minimize impacts, the South Fork Salmon River is simply inappropriate for this scale of mine exploration or development. Backing off is the right decision.”

Stephen Quin, president and CEO of Midas Gold, said the exploration project on public land is not critical to the viability of the $1.2 billion project. It already has completed its exploration and drilling on private lands here its known resources lie.

Midas has proposed building an open pit mine underneath the riverbed of the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River and then reconstructing the habitat once they are done. It hopes to have a preliminary  feasibility study completed by the end of the year.

If it show the project can bring investors "robust" returns, the project will move forward slowly, Quin said.

"We're the tortoise, not the hare," said Quin.