Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a mining company’s plan to use bulldozers, dump trucks and drilling rigs miles inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
The lawsuit was filed by the Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, The Wilderness Society, Friends of the Clearwater and Wilderness Watch. The lawsuit challenges the final decision by the Payette National Forest, issued in June, to approve the American Independence Mines and Minerals proposal to conduct additional mineral sampling to determine if the claims in question are valid mining claims.
Previously, the U.S. Forest Service denied the company’s request to do a limited amount of claim validation work at Golden Hand. The miner won a lawsuit forcing the Forest Service to do another review and it reversed its decision approving temporary road-building and heavy equipment operations to prove up the claim, which was made prior to the wilderness designation in 1980.
The claims are inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and in the headwaters of Big Creek, which flows into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Forest Service decision would allow 24-7 drilling operations and authorize up to 571 motorized vehicle trips into the Frank Church Wilderness per exploration season each year for three years.
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"The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River are priceless treasures belonging to the people of Idaho and all Americans,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League. “The mining company, or the Forest Service, could have opted to explore the validity of these claims without the use of heavy machinery, in order to protect this special wilderness setting.”
The groups are asking the court to deny the company’s overreaching plans and require the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board to limit the amount of drilling, trenching and motorized activities, and to minimize impacts on wilderness, wildlife habitat and people using the area. The coalition of conservation groups is represented by attorneys Bryan Hurlbutt and Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.