Resource ChallengeExperts believe that there are more than 500,000 abandoned hard rock mines in the West that are adversely affecting 40 percent of the region’s stream headwaters as they leach heavy metals into ground and surface waters. Federal land management agencies are reclaiming the most problematic mine sites on their lands, but they do not have programs or funding for the thousands of abandoned mines located on privately owned lands.
The American Fork watershed, southeast of Salt Lake in the Wasatch Mountains, is still being adversely affected by long-abandoned gold and silver mines. Of particular concern is a fragile population of native Bonneville cutthroat trout, which has persisted despite the River’s mine-related issues.
Trout Unlimited recently began a mine reclamation initiative on private lands in American Fork Canyon with a demonstration project on landscapes owned or managed by Snowbird Ski Resort. The Resort acquired the mineral-patented lands and abandoned mines in the 1960s, before concerns over mine contamination impacts to human health and natural resources grew to their current levels. Concerns over potential liability have long discouraged voluntary cleanups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 and Trout Unlimited are working on an administrative order to clarify the responsibilities and minimize potential liabilities as the cleanup moves ahead.