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Piotrowski Op-ed

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Subject: Piotrowski Op-ed
Date: 18-Sep-07

September 16, 2007 1872 mining act: What made sense in 1872 doesn't make sense in 2007 One of my greatest joys was watching my son — a toddler then — land his first cutthroat trout from the Middle Fork of the Boise River. His smile, almost as wide as my own, is what life in Idaho is all about.

The Boise River and its forks have been generous to Idaho. The Boise provides about 20 percent of Boise's drinking water and water for irrigation and recreation, while its uplands provide timber for our homes and minerals for our tools and toys.

The Boise River is beautiful but not pristine. Headwaters like the Middle Fork near Atlanta and tributaries like Mores Creek bear the scars of past mining. Between pollution and degraded habitat, they support a fraction of the aquatic life they once held.

I serve as the volunteer president of the Ted Trueblood chapter of Trout Unlimited. Our 800 members have raised over $500,000 and donated countless hours of labor to rehabilitate the Boise River. That's just one example of how Idahoans love our waters.

We like to think we learn from history. But the basic mining law of more than a century ago — the General Mining Act of 1872 — is still the fundamental law that governs mining on America's public land. A law written for the purpose of opening the frontier to settlement and encouraging Manifest Destiny remains the operative law today. That simply violates common sense.

That's one reason Boise is concerned about the cyanide heap leach gold mine planned by a Canadian company near Atlanta — the headwaters of the Boise. Under the Forest Service's interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law, the agency must allow the mine.

Responding to citizens' concerns, Boise Mayor David H. Bieter and the City Council formally opposed the Atlanta Gold Inc. mine, calling it "an intolerable threat to the river, the environment and the citizens of Boise."

Boise is not alone. Across the West are communities that want greater say about their futures and better tools for redressing the scars of the past. That's why the mining law of 1872 needs reform now.

I support responsible mining. But part of being responsible is acknowledging that some places are too valuable to risk. Boise was a mere village in 1872; today it is a thriving city. The Boise River provided more water than we needed in 1872; today we must be responsible stewards of that resource. Mining was critical to Idaho's economy in the years after 1872; today we recognize that a Superfund site is a drag on our economy. What made sense in 1872 should not drive our decisions in 2007.

Congress is considering updating — at long last — the 1872 mining law. Besides giving land managers more flexibility in determining where mines are most appropriate, the reformed law would budget more money for river restoration projects, like those conducted by Trout Unlimited, and provide for more local control of the resources we rely on. The reform also would end the giveaway of public lands to big mining companies, ensuring that our natural resources benefit all of us, not just the companies that mine them.

Today, my son is growing into a young man. When we fish together, he picks his own flies, reads the river and makes his own casts. His younger sister caught her first trout from the Boise, doubling my joy and pride.

Sometimes, I wonder what the future will bring for them. I hope — and work — for a future as bright as the long summer evenings we spend on the Boise River.

James Piotrowski lives and fishes in Boise and is volunteer president of the Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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