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Phosphate Mining: Breeding Two-headed Trout
Latest News: Yet another report continues to show the increasing threats posed by selenium in southwest Greater Yellowstone streams due to phosphate mining. Tom Myers, a hydrologic consultant from Reno, Nev., in a report for the Journal of Hydrology, writes that, "Extensive phosphate mining in the Blackfoot watershed of Idaho (USA) has substantially increased the selenium (Se) concentration in the river during both runoff and baseflow when groundwater discharge dominates."
A report released Nov. 1 (see summary here) by North Carolina State University doctoral candidate Justin Conley confirmed what is already known: one of the last and largest populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Idaho is in trouble due to high selenium concentrations in the Blackfoot River watershed.
Overview: Phosphate mining in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem occurs in the upper Blackfoot River and Salt River watersheds, an area of vast roadless forests known for its impressive diversity of wildlife. It has scarred the landscape and dumped poisonous selenium into area streams in substantial amounts, killing horses, livestock and wildlife, and ruining habitat of the imperiled Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Most notably, the Salt and Blackfoot river watersheds are home to two of the three largest remaining populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Idaho ̶ and a large percentage of the entire remaining population in Greater Yellowstone. The effects of land uses such as phosphate mining in this remote area can and do ripple across the ecosystem.
It two-headed trout aren't enough at one mine, dead sheep are the result of another. Selenium contamination from Monsanto’s closed Henry Mine killed 95 sheep, as reported by Monsanto on Oct. 12, 2012. 95 sheep died at its Henry Mine Superfund site from eating native vegetation contaminated by selenium that enters the environment during phosphate mining operations. For more than a decade, Monsanto has maintained that its phosphate mines, by design or luck, were free of the selenium contamination that plagues other phosphate mines in southeast Idaho. This recent news dramatically showcases the dangers of toxic selenium in southwest Greater Yellowstone's environment.
In news accounts, Monsanto blamed the sheep for being in the wrong place. The company also blamed the plants for being too absorbant. Rather than blaming this incidence on trespass grazing Monsanto should clean up its Superfund mine sites. We will continue to press Monsanto to clean up its Superfund sites.
Elsewhere in the phosphate mining district of southeast Idaho, Nu-West Mining, Inc., the Canadian-based mining company responsible for much of the selenium contamination in the Blackfoot River watershed, wants to open another phosphate mine in Greater Yellowstone. Read our comments about this proposal here. Thousands more of our supporters submitted comments to oppose this mine by the Sept. 17, 2012, deadline.
Nu-West’s proposes to develop the Husky 1-North Dry Ridge Mine adjacent to two of its Superfund mine sites even while the company steadfastly refuses to clean either of them up. This mine would industrialize hundreds of acres within the Dry Ridge and Schmid Peak inventoried roadless areas. These are Forest Service lands once protected from mining by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. However, that changed when the Bush Administration allowed Idaho to pick which national forest lands in Idaho would be protected and which would be opened to logging, road building, and phosphate mining. While the Idaho Roadless Rule allows for phosphate mining in roadless areas, the 2001 Roadless Rule, the law of the land for all other states, does not permit such incursions.
The Husky 1 mine would also intrude into the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to benefit fish and wildlife. Unfortunately, phosphate mining is incompatible with those goals. In fact, Yellowstone cutthroat trout that reside in the Blackfoot River within the WMA are already struggling, in large part due to selenium released by Nu-West’s Superfund mine sites.
Project Goals: To ensure cleanup of the 17 phosphate mine Superfund sites, halt future expansion until existing Superfund sited have been cleaned up, and prohibit mine development in any roadless areas.
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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired this segment which featured GYC as well as phosphate mining, selenium poisoning and two-headed trout.
Read Tom Myers' report on more grim news for the waters of the Blackfoot River watershed in southwest Greater Yellowstone.
Read Justin Conley's report on the latest bad news for Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the phosphate mining district of southwest Greater Yellowstone.
Click here to read about GYC's petition to the EPA requesting they include phosphate mining as a category in the Toxic Release Inventory.
Read the review blasting the J.R. Simplot Co.'s report on selenium runoff here.
Download a printable synopsis of our work on phosphate mining here.
See photos of the phosphate district here.
Download printable PDF map of phosphate mining district here.
Read what Patagonia's weblog, The Cleanest Line, says about GYC's work on phosphate mining.
Selenium poisoning is increasing in Greater Yellowstone's phosphate mining region. See how much here.
See map of phosphate-mining areas in southeast Idaho (PDF).