BOISE, Idaho — The US Forest Service violated environmental laws by approving exploratory drilling by a Canadian company hoping to build a gold mine in Idaho west of Yellowstone National Park, two environmental groups have said.
The Idaho Conservation League and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a lawsuit in United States District Court last week to stop Excellon Idaho Gold’s Kilgore gold exploration project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in the Clark County.
Groups report potential harm to grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, bighorn sheep, whitebark pines, Columbia spotted frogs and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Grizzly bears in the area are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and whitebark pine, a grizzly bear food source, has been nominated for listing by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Excellon Idaho Gold is a subsidiary of Excellon Resources Inc., based in Toronto, Ontario. It acquired the project from British Columbia-based Otis Gold Corporation in 2020.
Otis Gold Corporation said the zone contains at least 825,000 ounces of gold near the surface, and potentially more below. He said he eventually plans to build an open-pit mine if exploration reveals the gold is mostly near the surface, or an underground mine if the gold is deeper. These types of mines would require additional approval from the Forest Service.
Excellon Idaho Gold on its website says it’s too early to determine how the project might develop, but it’s committed to open and transparent communication.
Environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit in 2018 to stop exploratory drilling by Otis Gold Corporation and won. The Forest Service in November 2021 approved a new plan involving road construction and 130 drill stations proposed by Excellon Idaho Gold. These operations, according to the lawsuit, should begin on July 15.
Excellon Idaho Gold is not named as a defendant in the most recent lawsuit. In the previous lawsuit, Otis Gold Corporation intervened on the side of the Forest Service.
Environmental groups involved in the new lawsuit said the Forest Service chose to approve the project by implementing changes made by the White House Council on Environmental Quality to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, following an executive order by former President Donald Trump to expedite environmental protection. verification process.
“While there are several pending cases challenging the 2020 regulations as inconsistent with fundamental NEPA principles, the Forest Service chose to enforce the 2020 regulations and ignored the likely significant effects of Project Kilgore,” indicates the trial.
The groups also said the exploratory drilling violates the Forest Service Act of 1897 which includes protections for national forests. Additionally, the groups said the Forest Service would have to complete an Environmental Impact Statement, a much longer review process than that used by the agency to approve exploratory drilling.
The US Department of Justice, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, did not immediately respond to a request sent through its online portal.
The Idaho Conservation League and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition initially sought to reopen the first case and file an additional lawsuit, but that plan was rejected by the court. So the groups filed a brand new lawsuit, starting a new case.
In the previous lawsuit, the court ruled that the Forest Service did not violate environmental laws by determining that exploratory drilling would not cause undue harm to grizzly bears, whitebark pines or Columbia spotted frogs.
But those concerns are echoed in the new lawsuit, with the groups citing changing conditions since the original lawsuit was filed.
“The Kilgore Project site also supports individuals and habitat for many special-status and at-risk terrestrial and plant species, including grizzly bear, wolverine, lynx, elk, whitebark pine and others that found in the Centennial Mountains. declares the lawsuit.
The groups also said grizzly bears pass through the area, resulting in significant genetic diversity for the population.
“The Centennial Mountains are one of the primary corridors for grizzly bears (from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) to connect with grizzly bears from other populations in the Northern Rockies,” the lawsuit states.