Trout Unlimited’s Assault on San Juan County Colorado
Environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment in recognition that man is part of an ecosystem. And the environmental movement was born from observations that negligence can cause catastrophic damage to that ecosystem, including damage to man himself. Given more than 90% of Americans are recycling and 72% of Americans believe their personal actions are significant to the health of the environment, it is safe to say that most Americans are, to some degree, participating in the environmental movement. This level of participation is something to be proud of even if the degree of participation still needs to be significantly increased. In addition, broad participation explains why there is significant diversity in the opinions and goals of environmentalists and why intense conflicts can arise inside the movement.
This document describes one such conflict currently under way as seen through the eyes of one of the parties involved.
Certain factions in the environmental movement are eager to
sacrifice communities, industries, private property, and the rights of
individuals, and they defend their actions as justified pursuit of a greater
good. It is easy for them to conduct these campaigns, because they have nothing
to lose themselves and power to gain if they succeed. Yet an unbalanced
assessment of the consequences of their actions can be a threat to the
Here are a few facts regarding the conflict between Trout
Unlimited and the people who oppose their campaign to create an Alpine Triangle
Conservation Area in the San Juan Mountains of
Trout Unlimited is trying to lock
up the land around
Area residents object, because the best promise for making a good living in the area is mining. However, Trout Unlimited says mining must be restricted (read ‘stopped’) to defend the interests of sportsmen.
Ty Churchwell of Trout Unlimited commented that the San Juan County Commissioners shouldn’t have voted on the proposal and this proposal was of “far more concern economically and recreationally than is the possible wealth of a few who wish to exploit [it]” (“Silverton Standard”, April 22, 2010, page 9)
This position contradicts the fact that mining will bring prosperity to the entire community not otherwise possible. Specifically, the County’s economy is already based on recreational visitors yet average household income is well below the state average, a miner can increase his income 112% to 248% over today’s average, and the mineral reserves in the area probably exceed $30 billion at today’s prices.
To protect the local economy, such as it is, and to protect the natural beauty of the mountains they call home, a local stakeholders group is currently achieving great success in cleaning up area rivers with no outside help. In fact, even Trout Unlimited is complementary of their work.
Trout Unlimited consults regularly
with the office of Congressman John Salazar, 3rd District of
In the past, certain politicians have abandoned mine-related water restoration efforts at pivotal moments, including efforts to pursue proven, state-of-the-art, environmentally responsible mining by miners themselves. This suggests the their support for restoration was a political decision, not a matter of conviction.
The mines around Silverton have
played a strategic role in the defense of the
What is Trout Unlimited? (From the Trout Unlimited web site)
“Trout Unlimited is a national organization with more than
150,000 volunteers organized into about 400 chapters from
What is their Alpine Triangle Campaign?
The following quotes from Ty Churchwell come from a video posted to the Trout Unlimited web site.
“The Alpine Triangle is a Trout Unlimited / sportsmen-led
campaign to protect the BLM land that’s defined by the communities of
Trout Unlimited has been openly complementary of the successes of current grassroots water conservation efforts achieved with no outside help.
The following quotes also come from the Ty Churchwell video mentioned above.
“A lot of these rivers, to a large degree, were dead rivers through decades and decades because of the acid mine runoff. It’s being cleaned up as we speak. There are groups who are correcting those problems, and these rivers are becoming better fisheries every year that those cleanups are done.”
Note: The “dead river” statement was refuted in the public
meeting in Silverton by people who regularly fished the
Closing down and prohibiting mining activity is Trout Unlimited’s top priority
The following quotes also come from the Ty Churchwell video mentioned above.
“Probably the biggest threat to this area would be the mining industry and the threat that new or additional mines could have on the water quality of these trout rivers. What we’re trying to protect here are sportsmen’s values to a large degree and therefore the hunters and the anglers are playing a very big role, but it’s worth noting that the economic resources associated with this area, most notably the recreational resources, the campers, the ATV users, and so forth have a huge economic impact on these three communities… The threat is that new mines could come in at any time, and although we mine more responsibly than we did 100 years ago, the economic or ecological downfall could be severe.”
Note: it is not clear what Mr. Churchwell means by “new or additional mines”. There are over 3000 mining claims in the area, and all of the mines are dormant. However, with the current rise in commodity prices and the looming crisis in rare earth minerals, they could be opened at any time. Given the tone of Mr. Churchwell’s comments, mine owners need to assume he would not support putting them back into production.
Trout Unlimited claims the economic benefits for the affected communities would be much greater if current recreational activity continued and mining was prohibited. This assertion contradicts the facts.
Here are some key statistics on
2008 Median Household Income:
Poverty for a family of 4 in 2009: $22,050 or lower
In addition, over 50% of the students in the
In contrast, full time miners typically make $45,000 to $100,000 per year.
The following quotes also come from the Ty Churchwell video mentioned above.
“One of the things that we would advocate for is our belief
system that these resources up there are worth much more economically for these
three communities as a visual resource, as a recreation resource, and as a
hunting and fishing resource than it would be as a short term mining resource.
Roughly 300,000 people a year come to visit the Alpine Triangle and they do so
that they can visit the cultural and heritage sites, and utilize the
off-roading experience that’s available to them to literally drive and see this
amazing place. They’re spending their money in the communities of
Despite these 300,000 annual visitors, the fact is that per household income in Silverton today is 30% below the State average and $18,202 above the poverty line. As a miner, an individual can increase his income to 112% - 248% of its current level, and there are many years of mineral reserves to be mined.
In particular, the total recorded mineral production of the
If a “National Conservation Area” generates an additional $2 million dollars a year in economic “benefits” to the three communities, it will take 8,600 years of “additional” recreational income to equal the mineral production of the last 120 years. There is no comparison whatsoever between the economics of a National Conservation Area versus keeping the multi-use basis of the lands that has worked so well and been enjoyed by so many over the decades.
In spite of that, Trout Unlimited is hiring an outside consultant to study the potential economic impact of the National Conservation Area. Unfortunately, it is rare for a consultant to come to a conclusion that differs significantly from the one sought by his / her client, and if by chance he does reach a different conclusion, the report is buried. In other words, the report can be counted on to show “large economic benefits” from the potential for a marginal increase in recreational visitors to the area under the Trout Unlimited plan. Yet, there is no way these economic benefits can match the economic benefits of mining.
The mines are critical to the US Economy, National Security, and Renewable Energy
The area around Silverton contains some of the most highly
mineralized land in the world, including huge strategic resources that are essential
to the health of the
In fact, during World War II men from
Even today, the area still represents a rich reserve of
strategic minerals critical to our Country, which are required for the
production of hybrid cars, solar panels, military armor, cooling systems for all
types of power plants, modern electric motors, cell phones, and computers among
other things. Many of these minerals are found as by-products of mining for
other minerals. The available inventory is dwindling. Production is dropping,
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, some of the strategic minerals that can be found in area mines in large quantities are:
Indium: used in
the manufacture of solar panels.
Tungsten: used for welding and in numerous electrical and military applications. According to the U.S. Bureau of Mines, San Juan County has very high grade tungsten deposits (up to 40% tungsten ore content), yet the US currently imports significant amounts of the tungsten it consumes from China.
to strengthen steel and for high temperature greases. Molybdenum is very
important for armor plate production.
Bismuth: used for
pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Bismuth is currently heavily sourced from
Antimony: used in
semiconductors, alloys and batteries. Antimony is currently heavily sourced
Manganese: used in
many high strength alloys and in electronics. The U.S. Geological Survey
conducted a large amount of research on the large manganese deposits of
Gold: used to manufacture semiconductors which are the heart of everything electronic from cell phones, cars and TVs to weapons, satellites, and aircraft. To date, the western San Juans have produced more than 8.4 million ounces of gold (current value of $10 billion), and just two of the mines in the Silverton Area contain upwards of one million ounces of gold that can be profitably mined at today’s prices (April 30, 2010).
Silver: also used
in electronics and medicines. The western
Plus, the historic production of lead, zinc and copper from
Locking up this resource will compromise
Trout Unlimited is clearly collaborating with Congressman John Salazar and is probably collaborating with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on this Campaign
Trout Unlimited called a public meeting led by Ty Churchwell in Silverton on March 31, 2010. During the meeting, Mr. Churchwell informed the group that he had been working closely with Congressman John Salazar’s office, communicating with them at least once a month for a year to discuss the progress of the Alpine Triangle Campaign.
Also at the meeting, a community member circulated a paper
opposing the Campaign and spelling out why it was a threat to the town of
It is also well known that, at the request of the Secretary of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management (a DOI agency) identified the Alpine Triangle as a candidate for inclusion in the National Landscape Conservation System. This fact came to light when a DOI/BLM document was leaked and made its way to members of the Silverton community. (To read the document click here. Go to page 5.)
Given the above data points and the power of the Department of the Interior, those who oppose the Alpine Triangle Campaign need to assume the Department of Interior is involved.
Despite their rhetoric, both John Salazar and a former Colorado State Attorney General have histories of abandoning pivotal opportunities to restore damaged coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Their commitment appears to be a matter of politics, not conviction.
Let’s examine the these past events.
John Salazar, Congressman for the 3rd District of Colorado, including San Juan County
Congressman Salazar’s web site includes a biography that starts with a quote and the following paragraph.
“Congressman John Salazar is dedicated to defending rural values and ensuring that the government keeps its promises to the people. Now in his third term, Congressman Salazar comes to Congress after serving in the Colorado State Assembly, where he gained recognition for protecting rural water and leading the fight to defeat Referendum A.”
Despite his reputation for protecting rural water, the Congressman turned his back on an opportunity to designate $630,000 in Federal funds to Colorado in 2008 (for actual delivery to the State in 2009) to test a state-of-the-art water treatment technology useful for cleaning up mining discharge. In particular, the technology was developed by Blue Sky Technologies (www.blueskytechnologies.biz) and had been proven effective in removing almost all metals from mine discharge coming out of mines in California (such as the Mill Bull Tunnel, Leviathan Mine, Mammoth Mine, Iron Mountain Mine), and Montana (such as the Berkeley Pit).
This breakthrough water treatment technology was sought, and
found by a small mining company in
It took many weeks for the mining company’s Environmental Affairs Manager to get a reply from the Congressman’s office, but she eventually received word that a senior staff member wanted to meet her. It looked like the plan was moving forward. Rather, than give the plan life, however, the meeting killed it, as the senior staff member made it utterly clear that Congressman Salazar’s office would in no way support the proposed study, and he provided no explanation as to why.
There might be sense to this sequence of events if the
Congressman had had another, preferred, mining project in mind that he wanted
to insert into the bill. However, the WRDA section of the Energy and Water
Development Appropriations Bill, 2009, allocated no funds to any mining-related
A former Colorado State Attorney General
(Photo taken in September of 2009.)
This is a picture of the Red & Bonita Mine one half mile
Not only are the Red & Bonita and other mines affected by the Sunnyside plug still flowing today, but the American tunnel is now discharging up to 100 gallons per minute itself despite the installation of plugs.
Further, when the formerly dry mines ruptured and started to
discharge large volumes of heavy water, the owner of one of the mines filed a
law suit against the owner of the Sunnyside. Remarkably, the suit was still
active when then Attorney General had his department negotiate to vacate a
judicial consent decree with the Canadian owners of Sunnyside via “pollution
trading”. (Case 94CV5459 District Court of City and
In other words, even though there was an ongoing public dispute against Sunnyside’s owners for failing to contain the problem, Colorado’s Attorney General not only authorized the removal of the consent decree and released the Canadian company’s legal obligation to treat the Sunnyside Mine’s discharge, but he also returned a $5 million bond for cleanup of potential future water damages to the Mine’s Canadian owners. In fact, as Attorney General he signed away all of
No one knows why the Attorney General let the Canadian
owners of the Sunnyside Mine off the hook, but the fact is he did. And to this
day, the legacy of that decision is affecting the headwaters of the
The Alpine Triangle has near unrestricted access today for fisherman, hunters, ATV riders, and other sportsmen. The multiple use and access to the area are in fact triumphs for the local counties, and the multiple use status is already creating economic benefits for them. Indeed, it is to protect those benefits and to protect the natural beauty of the mountains they call home that a local stakeholders group is already successfully cleaning up area rivers with no outside help, and it is for the same reasons that a mine owner sought and found technology capable of taking heavy metals out of mine drainage. These people are environmentalists. And as environmentalists they are working hard to achieve sustainable management of resources and they are fully committed to being responsible stewards of the environment.
Therefore, the only arguments that remain for Trout Unlimited to create a National Conservation Area are: to ban mining from the area, to ultimately transition the area to National Monument and/or National Park status, and to acquire stature (a.k.a. power) from “delivering” a unique natural resource to American sportsmen, even though the resource was already available to them and even though “delivering” it requires sacrificing a community, its opportunity for prosperity, and local property rights not to mention closing off natural resources critical to all of the people of the United States, the Country’s armed forces, and the Country’s green energy agenda.
Finally, given that the area has produced over $17 billion
in mineral production over the years and over $30 billion remains to be mined,
no amount of additional “recreational access” can compare to the economic
benefits of mining to the area. Yet, Trout Unlimited is eager to deny the
This agenda is an assault on the values that are fundamental to the United States of American, and it is an assault on the Country’s long term interests.
Time is of the essence
The Department of the Interior is actively creating new National
Monuments as we speak. In May 2010, the Secretary of the Interior submitted
a bill to make the Chimney Rock area in