The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management today authorized expansion of the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine in southeast Idaho’s Caribou Targhee National Forest into undeveloped wild areas protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule. The federal action signals a major assault on undeveloped wild lands in America’s national forests protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule.
Expansion of the mine into the roadless areas appears to depend upon a highly controversial Idaho state roadless petition that is awaiting final approval from the Bush administration. Approval of the state’s petition would open not only roadless areas near the mine, but also millions of acres of roadless national forests lands in other parts of Idaho to development. The state petition process seeks to undo the 2001 Roadless Rule, which Earthjustice has successfully worked over the past seven years to keep in place as a critical safeguard for our nation’s wildlife, clean water, and hunting, fishing and other recreation opportunities.
“This mining authorization represents a major assault on Idaho’s roadless areas by the Bush administration,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The administration’s claim that they are complying with the Roadless Rule is undercut by the fact that they are betting on changes in the rule in order to implement this decision.”
The decision authorizes mining development that would violate the Roadless Rule as it exists today but postpones that development in the hope of a change in the existing law.
In addition to the development of roadless areas, the mining authorization threatens to pollute waters with additional selenium in the midst of an area that is already a federal Superfund site due to selenium pollution caused by past mining activity.
“Today’s decision by the Forest Service is the environmental equivalent of turning off the traffic light at a community’s most dangerous intersection,” said Marty Hayden, director of Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice.
In October, conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, put the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and J.R. Simplot Company on notice they could be sued for allowing the dumping of mine waste that is causing massive selenium pollution. Expanding the mine would greatly exacerbate this problem.
Selenium pollution from phosphate mines in southeast Idaho has caused over 500 documented livestock deaths and depleted native trout from streams in southeast Idaho.
Learn more about the proposed Smoky Canyon Mine. (PDF)