Throughout the American West, hard rock mining has left behind a history of enduring scars across the landscape. While mining can provide jobs and economic opportunity, irresponsible mining can degrade the health of the lands and waters that sustain us all. The problems caused by abandoned mines are widespread, and the devastation to formerly pristine coldwater fisheries continues long after the mines have closed or are abandoned. More than 500,000 abandoned mines litter the land west of the 100th Meridian.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds have been adversely affected by hard rock mining. Clean up estimates range between $32 and $72 billion, with no dedicated funding for such crucial work. Abandoned mines degrade water quality and the health of major fisheries in every western state, and much of the damage occurs on public lands.
Initiated in the spring 2003, the mining reform campaign is part of Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. TU is not opposed to mining on public lands. What we reject is the notion that multinational mining companies and others be allowed to leave poorly managed mines that impair water quality and pose risks to western communities. To that end, we are committed to taking a collaborative, multi-year approach to restoration and reclamation that combines scientific information, community outreach, and the development of long-term funding to clean up abandoned mines across the West.
However, to effectively restore abandoned mine sites in the West, entities who saddle this extremely important responsibility must be protected from liability, mainly from the degradation incurred by long-vanished industrial entities that dumped the problem on today’s generations of Americans who value pristine public lands. In order to clean up after these long-gone companies, non-profit entities, like TU, should not become responsible for the damage inflicted on the land decade, or in many instances, over a century, ago. TU is working with the powers that be in Washington, D.C., to draft good Samaritan policies, under which TU and other groups interested in cleaning up mining’s unfortunate legacy can actually move dirt and physically the sites that pollute our mountain streams and lakes. We’re making progress, but it’s painfully slow.
What’s more, TU is determined to push forward with reforms to the antiquated 1872 Mining Act, which has enabled many of the problems TU is addressing today. The law, as it reads now, is painfully out of touch with the conservation ethics of our nation’s outdoorspeople, and the royalties our government collects from mining on public lands today don’t even approach the money that will be needed to clean up after industry, which, under this law, is not bound to mitigate any damage that might result from precious metals or minerals being removed from the disturbed ground.
The principal goals of this initiative are to engage anglers and other sportsmen and women across the West to make cleanup of abandoned mines a priority for federal agencies, States, and Congress, as well as to push through significant reforms to the 135-year-old law governing mining on public lands in this country. TU staff and volunteers will actively engage in educating and helping others to recognize the threat that abandoned hard rock mines pose both to the West's recreational opportunities and its irreplaceable natural heritage.
TU in the News - Mining
EPA Good Samaritan