Placer mining involves excavation, sifting or washing of alluvial deposits for minerals, usually precious onces such as gold. The 1872 General Mining Law "prioritizes mining above all other land uses," Swearingen writes, but the Mining Claims Rights Restoration Act of 1955 lets the federal government challenge placer miners potential hydropower sites. North Fork, Idaho, is one of the few places where the areas overlap. So far, the government is winning the battle.
The controversy began last summer when miners began selling 36 claims on the Internet. After receiving some complaints, the Forest Service called for a hearing before the Department of Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals, arguing "that miners would push out campers and anglers and harm critical habitat for bull trout, a threatened species," reports Swearingen. They said "larger-scale placer mining could destroy Native American artifacts in the riverbanks, and would hamper efforts to designate the North Fork as a Wild and Scenic River." Miners didn't defend 20 of the 36 claims. A judge will rule on the other 16 claims sometime this summer. (Read more)