The USDA Forest Service and Trout Unlimited announced today they have signed a memorandum of understanding to bring national awareness and support to their joint cleanup work of abandoned mine sites.
“There should be no doubt federal land stewards need to remain diligent in finding ways to deal with abandoned mine sites,” said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth at a news conference at the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort overlooking the American Fork Canyon. “Nothing short of the quality of some of the west’s best rivers and streams – and the public’s drinking water – are at stake.”
“The EPA estimates that 40 percent of the west’s headwater streams are affected by abandoned mines,” said Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited Vice President for Conservation Programs. “Abandoned mines are the environmental equivalent of the crazy aunt in the attic – they’re a huge problem no one wants to talk about.” Trout Unlimited also released a report on the environmental threats of abandoned hard rock mines.
Restoration of healthy watersheds is a primary mission of the USDA Forest Service. The agency’s program to clean up abandoned mine sites has helped restore water quality for public health and safety, as well as fish and other wildlife, on national forests throughout the United States. A notable example includes the American Fork Canyon on the Uinta National Forest. In spite of the progress made to date, there are still tens of thousands of sites needing restoration. The Forest Service has set an ambitious goal of cleaning up these sites by 2045.
“To reach our goal and clean up entire watersheds that often cross several ownerships, we need the public’s support and strong partnerships with state and local agencies, the mining industry, and groups like Trout Unlimited,” Bosworth said.
Trout Unlimited and the USDA Forest Service have worked together on many projects in the past, including cleanup of abandoned mines in Colorado's upper Arkansas River watershed. Through the combined efforts of Federal, State and Private parties, along with many volunteers, including members of Trout Unlimited, the Arkansas River has seen significant increases in trout populations in the area immediately below Leadville.
“A formal partnership agreement between Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service would serve the goals of both organizations; and most importantly, the needs of the American people and many wildlife species,” Wood said. “If we work together, we can cleanup entire watersheds.” Trout Unlimited would focus on working with private land owners, while the Forest Service would focus on national forest system land.