0321 GMT January 27, 2020
According to documents obtained by Earthworks and reported by the Statesman, the US Forest Service is allowing Canadian-based company Midas Gold to take a lead role in the creation of a biological assessment of its proposed open-pit gold mines in central Idaho, thehill.com reported.
The environmental report would assess the mines' impact on fish protected under the Endangered Species Act, including salmon, steelhead and bull trout. An assessment could shut down Midas Gold’s Stibnite Gold Project if it meant the company had to undertake costly habitat restoration work to protect the surrounding area.
February 2018 documents show the US Forest Service initially denying Midas Gold's request to take part in the biological assessment, citing concerns that the project would harm endangered animals, but by October 2018, the company was leading the assessment.
Documents also show that the company heavily lobbied the Trump administration while obtaining approval for its involvement in the report, including meetings between Midas Gold and President Trump's deputy under secretary of the US Department of Agriculture's natural resources and environment.
After the meetings, internal documents reportedly show the US Forest Service's opposition to Midas Gold's involvement caving.
Midas Gold's vice president of external affairs told the Statesman that it's normal to be a part of the assessment, calling the process "collaborative" with federal and state officials.
However, some are skeptical of the company's involvement and the Nez Perce Tribe, which has treaty rights to the land, opposes mining. The Nez Perce has cited concerns for nearby fish habitat as the mines would be erected near 80 river miles that are home to federally protected fish.
The Statesman reports that since the 1990s taxpayers have covered $4 million worth of habitat cleanup to restore land left in poor condition by past mining activity in the area.
Midas Gold officials told the Statesman that a draft of the report has not yet been written, but it is expected to inform an environmental impact report set to be released in early 2020.