If you’ve ever wandered the backcountry of the Rockies in search of trout, chances are you’ve stumbled across rust-crusted rocks and bright red stream bottoms that signal dead water and lost opportunity. Abandoned mines are one of the most obvious—but least-addressed—threats to wild and native trout in West. By some estimates, 40 percent of our western headwater streams are affected by tailings piles and leaky tunnels that belch heavy metals and acidic water into otherwise pristine streams. And these headwater streams often feed some of our country’s most iconic trout rivers. Trout Unlimted’s Western Abandoned Mines Program works to clean up old mines that taint our trout streams, hinder angling opportunity and, more importantly, pollute waters all across the West.
TU’s first abandoned mine clean-up project occurred in 2004 in American Fork Canyon just east of Salt Lake City. By working with Tiffany & Co., the U.S. Forest Service and the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, TU helped clean up American Fork Creek in a project that showcased our collaborative approach to restoring stream health and fish.
Since that first project, TU has leveraged almost $1 million in private and foundation funding into over $6 million in federal funding, and we’re working to clean up abandoned mines in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Washington. We work with federal agencies, private donors, the mining industry and volunteers on the ground to clean up old mines and improve fish—and fishing—across the West.
Since 2004, TU has become the most effective non-profit organization when it comes to cleaning up abandoned mines in the West. We’ve worked to restore the flood plain for much of the Middle Fork of the Boise River in Idaho, a river that was once a placer mining mecca. In Colorado, we restored 12 miles of stream habitat on Kerber Creek and improved water quality to the point where there is serious dialog about reintroducing native Rio Grande cutthroat trout into the stream. We’ve made great progress, but there are thousands of abandoned mine sites across the West that would cost over $30 billion to clean up. We’ll continue to leverage our relationships with state and federal agencies, the industry and others to do our part to improve these watersheds, restore habitat and make fishing better.