Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Time to save wilderness

Former agricultural mining executives Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne (FMC) and Gov. Butch Otter (J.R. Simplot Co.) are leading an initiative to permit private entities to build roads in Idaho's protected roadless areas. The road act will permit the growth of open-pit mining of phosphorus in southeast Idaho.

Mining for phosphate exposes rocks rich in selenium, which once exposed to rain and snow flows into streams and underground aquifers. It can build up in plants, reaching high concentrations that can kill livestock and wildlife and harm the people who eat them.

Selenium pollution from mining is contaminating the Salt and Blackfoot rivers from three operating phosphate mines and as many as 28 closed mines. Fifteen mines pose such immediate and severe threats that they have been named "Superfund" sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A Superfund site is land so contaminated by hazardous substances that it poses an imminent risk to human health or the environment.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the release of a draft rule outlining protections and management for roadless areas in Idaho. The draft is based on the state of Idaho's petition submitted to the Forest Service in fall 2006, first tendered by then-Gov. James Risch and endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter. The draft permits roads in order to mine phosphorus in Idaho wilderness areas.

There is opportunity for all Wood River Valley and Idaho residents to stop the gift of Idaho's wilderness to the J.R. Simplot Co.

A 90-day comment period on the proposed rule and the draft EIS will end on April 7. Comments may be sent via e-mail to Comments also may be submitted online at

Written comments concerning this notice should be addressed to Roadless Area Conservation-Idaho, Box 162909, Sacramento, CA 95816-2909, or via facsimile to (916) 456-6724.

Skip Weinbel


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