Sagebrush Day 7

Gold Mining, Reclamation & Urban Sprawl

The West, of course, played home to the great American gold rush in the mid to late 1800’s. While some 49ers found gold en route to California in the Nevada hills, the Carlin Trend gold deposit outside of Elko wasn’t discovered until 1962, sparking a resurgence in precious metal mining in the area. Exploration and extraction continue today, but look a lot different. The group toured Newmont Mining Corporations’ Emigrant Mine, discussed the operation, and talked about how, unlike the early days of gold fever, environmental impacts are now addressed and managed. 

In 1993, Newmont and the BLM collaborated on the creation of the Maggie Creek Watershed Restoration Project, improving stream and riparian habitat in mitigation for Newmont’s South Operations Area Project. Today, thanks to this landscape-scale multispecies habitat conservation plan, Maggie Creek serves as an important ecosystem for native populations of cutthroat trout, as well as countless other fish, plants and wildlife. We had a chance to tour the restored habitat and talk with Newmont about the problems and promise afforded by offsetting environmental impacts in one ecosystem with improvements elsewhere. We also heard from Noble Energy about their experience at Willow Creek (which we toured the day before). 

Finally, the day - and the trip - wrapped up back in Salt Lake City with a conversation with Terry Messmer, a wildlife professor at Utah State, and Logan County representatives. The Henefer Lek sits along state route 65 on the edge of exurban Salt Lake City. During mating season, bird watchers and busloads of schoolchildren park on the shoulder to watch the bird’s early morning display. Such attention isn’t exactly ideal for the skittish birds, which can be easily scared off the lek. In addition to the threat of “loving the lek to death,” sage grouse collisions with cars are frequent and the acreage around the lek is being eyed by developers. Can Henefer Lek be saved and keep offering a dance floor to the birds it has hosted for generations?