Letters from the West

Forest Service approves trucks and bulldozers in Frank Church wilderness

Payette National Forest Supervisor Keith Lannom has finalized his decision to allow miners to bring dump trucks and other heavy equipment into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Lannom approved allowing American Independence Mines and Minerals Co. to upgrade a trail back to a road to access a claim made more than 35 years ago. A federal court ordered the Forest Service in 2002 to allow the prospecting of the Golden Hand Mine, near Big Creek in Valley County.

“This work is being approved to ensure that valid rights exist,” Lannom said. “To do that, the mining claimant must be allowed to show they have made a discovery.”

Federal mining laws and the Wilderness Act allow for mining of valid claims made prior to wilderness designations. The Idaho Conservation League urged Lannom to require the mining company to make its workers walk to the site and to use helicopters and horses to carry necessary equipment.

“We do understand that this project will impact the wilderness character in the project area by allowing for motorized transportation within the wilderness area,” said Lannom. “We have determined that this course of action will reduce the negative impacts to the greatest extent possible while complying with federal laws and the court order.”

Lannom said limiting access to walking and horses would not allow the miner his full rights.

But Lannom’s decision does not allow full-scale mining operations. If the miners show the claim is valid, they will have to return for additional analysis and environmental review.