Thursday, April 03, 2008

Soaring precious-metals prices spur a new wave of gold prospectors, reopen Idaho silver mines

Soaring prices for precious metals have prompted the reopening and expansion of silver mines in Idaho and spurred a new wave of gold prospectors elsewhere in the West, The New York Times reported in separate stories this week.

Driven also by "a suburban thirst for new outdoor activities, tens of thousands ... are taking to historically rich streams and hills all across the West in search of nuggets, flecks and — more often than not — specks of gold," Jesse McKinley writes from Colfax, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada. McKinley's numbers come from the Gold Prospectors Association of America, which says its membership is up almost 40 percent from "a few years ago, to more than 45,000.

Another number: Last year, McKinley reports, "The California Department of Fish and Game issued nearly 3,000 permits for dredging, even as it began to look into whether dredging was causing 'adverse environmental effects' or harm to fish. A coalition of sport and tribal fishermen asked Monday for a two-year moratorium on dredging till the environmental impact could be determined."

And here's the large economic angle: "The one gold-digging law that hasn’t changed over the years is this: If you want to make money during a gold rush, don’t mine the hills. Mine the miners," McKinley writes, citing businesses that have cropped up to serve the new generation of prospectors. (Read more)

Northern Idaho's Silver Valley was evolving into "another Western confection of ski slopes and condos for newcomers with money, [then] the real estate market slowed, and the price of silver soared" to $17 an ounce from $5, William Yardley writes from the town of Wallace. Shoshone County, which had gone from one of the state's richest counties to one of its poorest, now has 700 miners, 200 more than last year, and their average annual pay is $57,000, "more than double the average of all other jobs."

And, Yardley reports, "For now, at least, the new mining boom does not appear to be creating a culture conflict between miners and those nurturing a new Silver Valley. ... There is talk of reopening a local mining training site (it is a mine-it-yourself tourist attraction now), and an industry that declares itself cleaner and safer than ever is reaching out across the West to find workers." (Read more)

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