A Canadian mining company that hopes to build an open-pit gold mine in Idaho, west of Yellowstone National Park, may resume exploratory drilling, the US Forest Service said on Friday.
The agency said it has approved Excellon Idaho Gold’s Kilgore gold exploration project in Clark County’s Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Excellon Idaho is a subsidiary of Excellon Resources Inc., based in Toronto, Ontario.
The project was halted following federal court rulings in 2019 and 2020 regarding potential damage to Yellowstone cutthroat trout in a creek. The new drill plan draws water from another stream that officials say does not contain Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
The company says the zone contains approximately 825,000 ounces (23.4 million grams) of gold. The company in a summary of its plans says it would like to get the gold by digging a surface mine.
Such a mine would require further approval from the Forest Service.
The company did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request sent through its online portal.
The Forest Service initially approved the exploration in 2018. But the Idaho Conservation League and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a complaint in November 2018, saying the exploratory drilling could pollute groundwater and surface water.
The groups also said the drilling would harm grizzly bears, whitebark pine, Yellowstone cutthroat trout and Columbia spotted frogs.
The federal court ruled that the Forest Service did not violate environmental laws by determining that exploratory drilling would not unduly harm grizzly bears, whitebark pine or Columbia spotted frogs.
However, the court found that the Forest Service had failed to perform a proper groundwater quality analysis in the Dog Bone Ridge drainage, home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Trout are considered a sensitive species facing threats to their population or habitat.
The new Forest Service approved plan says water for drilling at Dog Bone Ridge will now come from Beaver Creek rather than Coral Creek. The agency also said that Excellon added several monitoring sites associated with Dog Bone Ridge.
The company’s plan approved in 2018 included 16 kilometers of new roads and 140 drilling stations.
The forest service, in its approval Friday, said 10 drill sites had been built before the lawsuit stopped the project, so the latest approval is for 130 drill sites. The surface disturbance associated with the new plan is 22 acres (9 hectares).
Josh Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League said the group is looking at Forest Service approval and keeping their options open.
“In general, we still have significant concerns regarding the impact on water quality and wildlife from the proposed exploration project,” he said.