Miners, conservationists join to save river, trout

Boise, Idaho (AP) June 2012

Two conservation groups and three phosphate mining companies in eastern Idaho have formed a partnership intended to improve water quality in the Blackfoot River in eastern Idaho.

JR Simplot Company, Monsanto and Agrium/Nu-West Industries have joined with the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited to form the Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation.

“It is an opportunity for stakeholders of the Blackfoot River to come together and make a positive difference.” Jeff Klieve, director of environmental affairs for Monsanto, told the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/M6j9JX ) in a story published last week.

The group in February compiled data on fish populations throughout the Upper Blackfoot and completed an assessment of fish passage obstacles and habitat conditions. The Upper Blackfoot is a blue ribbon fishery for native cutthroat trout.

Monsanto, Boise-based J.R. Simplot Co., and Agrium/Nu-West Industries have mines in the so-called phosphate patch near the Idaho-Wyoming border. Environmental groups have been concerned about selenium pollution from phosphate mining that’s killed livestock and aquatic life in eastern Idaho waterways.

“Our top priority projects are those that will immediately benefit water quality and fish,” said Rob Masonis, vice president for Western Conservation at Trout Unlimited.

The group is also contacting others with interests in the region. Those include ranchers and other land owners, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, Caribou Cattle Co. and the Bear Lake Grazing Co.

“In all our projects, we will reach out to other interested parties and work collaboratively with landowners and government agencies,” said Alan Prouty, Simplot’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.

The group also is looking at non-lethal methods at controlling pelican populations near the Blackfoot Reservoir.

“As we work to restore habitat in the Blackfoot River and improve water quality, we also need to have a thoughtful strategy to make sure the benefit of UBRIC’s habitat restoration work is not negated by the pelicans,” said Justin Hayes, program manager for the Idaho Conservation League.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is not part of the new group.

Marv Hoyt, Idaho director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said it would have been difficult to continue its conservation efforts “while at the same time taking money from those companies.”