Yellowstone River

The sun sets on the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley in this Chronicle file photo. An outfitter says economies along the Yellowstone River depend on agriculture and tourism, and that permanently preventing oil and gas development near the river would ensure those industries have clean water.

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BOISE − The U.S. District Court in Boise agreed with conservation groups and stopped Otis Gold Corp., now Excellon Resources Inc., an international mining company, from moving forward with gold exploration near the Centennial Mountains by the town of Kilgore in eastern Idaho.

On Monday, May 4, Judge B. Lynn Winmill revoked the Forest Service’s approval of the Kilgore Project. This important decision follows Judge Winmill’s December 2019 ruling that held the Forest Service failed to consider Otis’s underground drilling as a threat to water quality and Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Corral Creek. Together, these rulings mean Otis’s exploration project cannot proceed until the Forest Service completely analyzes and discloses the impacts of drilling on groundwater and fish in Corral Creek, takes public comment, and issues a new decision approving or denying the Kilgore Project.

“Water, wildlife and productive agricultural land is more important than gold for Idahoans. Judge Winmill’s decision shows that rushing the environmental review and approval process in the headwaters of Camas and Corral creeks doesn’t make sense for Idaho or for business,” said Kathy Rinaldi, Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s Idaho Conservation Coordinator.

John Robison, ICL’s Public Lands Director, said, “Based on the court’s decision, the Forest Service has to take a step back and do a more thorough review of the project’s likely impact on habitat, wildlife and clean water. It also means public involvement in the review.”

In his December decision, Judge Winmill ordered the Forest Service to establish a baseline so it can detect any degradation of water quality caused by Otis’s drilling and to evaluate and protect against impacts on Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which are listed as a “sensitive species.”

ICL and GYC, represented by Advocates for the Westand the Western Mining Action Project, originally initiated this lawsuit in 2018, challenging the Forest Service’s approval of Otis’s five-year exploratory drilling project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest near Kilgore, about 80 miles north of Idaho Falls. The exploration project covers nearly 20 miles of federal and state public lands and would include construction of 10 miles of new roads and nearly 150 drill stations.

If enough gold is found, Otis indicates that it hopes to move forward with plans for an open-pit mine that includes cyanide leaching pools. However, open-pit, heap leach, cyanide gold mines pose significant threats to human health and the environment, as these types of mines often leak or spill contaminants from the mine site into adjacent waters.

ICL works to ensure that mining activities don’t threaten human health, special places or Idaho’s clean water. ICL scrutinizes proposed new mines, improves those that are acceptable and fights those that are not in Idaho’s best interests.

GYC is a conservation organization that works with people to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, now and for future generations. GYC has a long history of reviewing mining projects to protect a vision of a healthy and intact Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where critical lands, waters, and wildlife are adequately protected.