Trout Unlimited’s Assault on San Juan County Colorado

July 2010



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 U.S. economy, national security, and renewable energy. And to the communities, businesses, and individuals that these factions are willing to sacrifice, it feels like an all out attack.


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 Colorado.


Trout Unlimited is trying to lock up the land around Silverton, Colorado in San Juan County as a National Conservation Area despite the objections of the large majority of Silverton residents and the San Juan County Commissioners.


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.


The San Juan County government voted “No” to the proposed National Conservation Area twice. (See County Resolution #2010-12, dated April 28, 2010.) Over 50% of the Alpine Triangle as defined by Trout Unlimited is in San Juan County.


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 Colorado (including San Juan County), on the progress of their campaign. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior and brother to John Salazar, Ken Salazar, has commented that this area is worthy of special management or congressional designation (i.e. National Conservation Area or National Monument).


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 U.S. in the past, and the minerals they contain continue to be critical to the U.S. economy, defense, and renewable energy. For example, the U.S. currently sources 95% of some of the most critical minerals from China, and as China domestic needs are growing, they are threatening to stop all such exports.


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 Maine to Montana to Alaska. This dedicated grassroots army is matched by a respected staff of lawyers, policy experts and scientists, who work out of more than 30 offices nationwide. These conservation professionals ensure that Trout Unlimited is at the forefront of fisheries restoration work at the local, state and national levels.”


Trout Unlimited’s Mission is “To conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”


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 Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. What we’d like to protect here is the mining and cultural sites, the recreational resources, and the sporting values associated with this BLM land…. The entire BLM area associated with the Triangle has 195 miles of dirt, four wheel drive, and extreme four wheel drive roads. It’s the headwaters of the Uncompaghre, the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, and the Animas Rivers which are some of the best trout fisheries in the West… It truly is one of the most unique sporting and recreational resources in Colorado, most notably because of the access – the dirt road and four wheel drive access – into this area…”


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 Animas River in the 1950s and 1960s and described how good the fishing was and is.


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 San Juan County. According to Kimberly Buck, Executive Director of the San Juan Development Association:


2008 Median Household Income:

Colorado: $57,184

San Juan County: $40,252

Poverty for a family of 4 in 2009: $22,050 or lower


In addition, over 50% of the students in the Silverton School District are “in need” or “some form of need” according to an Administrator in the District.


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 Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. But because of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad the town of Durango definitely has an economic interest in the Triangle, as do the communities of Montrose and Gunnison.”


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 western San Juan Mountains to date exceeds $17 billion dollars (source: 1993 article by Paul J. Bartos in the SEG Newsletter), and the mineral resources currently in place probably exceed $30 billion dollars.


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 US economy, to national security, and to renewable energy.


In fact, during World War II men from San Juan County were exempt from the draft to ensure there were sufficient natural resources to produce the arms and transport vehicles needed by our armed forces. Understandably, Silverton was, and still is, very proud of the role it played in the War.


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, and the U.S. is sourcing them heavily from other countries, particularly China. ( In fact, the Public Broadcasting program called The News Hour did a segment on the coming crisis in rare earth minerals specifically on June 13, 2010. It is not possible to summarize the excellent information contained in the segment here, but two key points relevant to the Trout Unlimited campaign are


  • Rare earth minerals are essential to green energy. In fact, green energy begins in mines.
  • 95% of rare earth minerals used in the U.S. come from China, and China’s need is growing so quickly that they’re considering keeping everything they find for themselves and stopping all exports.


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. San Juan County probably has the highest indium grades in the world. These grades are documented in U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 535. A large portion of the world’s Indium production comes from China, which is starting to cut off strategic mineral exports of Indium and other metals.


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.


Molybdenum: used to strengthen steel and for high temperature greases. Molybdenum is very important for armor plate production. San Juan County has at least three known large molybdenum deposits in the proposed National Conservation Area.


Bismuth: used for pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Bismuth is currently heavily sourced from China. The Alpine Triangle has bismuth resources, in addition to other strategic metals such as tellurium, which is also heavily sourced from China.


Antimony: used in semiconductors, alloys and batteries. Antimony is currently heavily sourced from China. San Juan County has very large antimony resources.


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 San Juan County, and the U.S. government considered building a large manganese mine and smelting complex in San Juan County during the Korean War, due to a shortage of this metal for the war effort.


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 San Juan Mountains have produced over 175 million ounces of silver, worth over $3.2 billion at today’s prices.


Plus, the historic production of lead, zinc and copper from the western San Juan Mountains has been over $4 billion.


Locking up this resource will compromise America’s ability to produce consumer, industrial, green energy, and defense-related products.


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 Silverton. (To read that paper click here.) The paper asserts that the Department of the Interior is also collaborating with Trout Unlimited. The paper was mentioned at a subsequent County Commissioner Meeting held on April14, 2010, and one Commissioner vigorously refuted one point from the paper (that the U.S. gold reserves may have been sold over the years). However, no one denied the behind-the-scenes involvement of the Department of the Interior in the Trout Unlimited campaign.


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 ( 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 San Juan County. It was also found independently by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who suggested doing a pilot demonstration at the San Juan company’s mine. To obtain funding for the pilot, the Corps of Engineers informed the mining company that a spending authorization bill allocating millions of dollars for mine restoration was winding its way through Congress, and that $630,000 of it was available for Colorado if a Congressman would insert the appropriate line appropriation into the bill. Specifically, the bill was for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Restoration of Abandoned Mine Sites Program (RAMS) which was expanded under the Water Resources and Development Act of 2007, H.R. 1495, (WRDA), an Act that was vigorously backed by Congressman Salazar ( At this point, the mining company enthusiastically volunteered to donate a parcel of its private land for the water treatment plant site. The local watershed protection group also approved the idea, and the mining company approached the office of, John Salazar (who was actually on the relevant appropriations subcommittee), asking that he insert the necessary language into the bill. In addition, the U.S. Corps of Engineers also communicated their support for the plan to Congressman’s office.


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 projects in Colorado whatsoever. Therefore it is clear that pursuing responsible mining in San Juan County conflicts with the Congressman’s interests, either because he is against all mining in the State or he has other plans for San Juan County specifically. Either way, supporting environmentally responsible mining in Colorado clearly conflicts with his agenda.


A former Colorado State Attorney General


In 2003, Colorado’s State Attorney General allowed a large public mining company to walk away from a massive discharge of heavy metal laden water that is still flowing unchecked and untreated today.

(Photo taken in September of 2009.)


This is a picture of the Red & Bonita Mine one half mile from Gladstone, Colorado, and seven miles from Silverton. Prior to a bulk heading project at the neighboring Sunnyside Mine designed to hold back mining discharge, the Red & Bonita was know as a “dry mine” without any significant drainage. However, after installation of the final plug in the American Tunnel of the Sunnyside Mine, a stream of 200+ gallons per minute of heavy metal laden water started to flow from the neighboring Red & Bonita and other mines in the area. Together, these new flows produced an equivalent discharge volume to the Sunnyside prior to closure, and the pollution stream is draining onto one of the many parcels of private land in San Juan County. (In fact, this land is owned by the author of this document, while the mine entrance is owned by another private person.)


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 County of Denver)

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 Colorado’s future rights to pursue Clean Water Act or other legal remedies against them. This was in exchange for the Canadian company performing four minor mine remediation projects elsewhere, at least two of which benefited the Company directly. (See article here: link to “What Lies Beneath”.)


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 Animas River and its associated watershed.


In summary


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 people of San Juan County this opportunity to prosper and to deny the U.S. access to critical mineral reserves in order to accumulate power for itself.


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 Colorado a National Monument. Chimney Rock is one of the targeted areas identified by the BLM for National Monument status.