On paper, the Blackfoot River, which begins at the Continental Divide and flows 132 miles to the west, doesn't seem poetic. Roads and clear-cuts line its shores. Mining waste runs through its water. In 1975, a tailings dam broke, spilling sludge into the headwaters of the Blackfoot, killing fish and turning the area into a state Superfund site. When Robert Redford filmed the movie version of A River Runs Through It, he decided the Blackfoot had too much logging nearby for the panoramic shots he wanted. He used the Gallatin instead.
So what makes the
Fish: The Blackfoot is to
anglers what Jerusalem is to monotheism. It houses cutthroat,
rainbow and brown trout. It is also one of the Northwest's most
important spawning grounds for bull trout, a fish on the verge of
being listed as an endangered species.
McDonald Mine is built, fish would face a host of dangers:
* Acids and heavy metals - Like Pegasus'
Zortman-Landusky Mine, the McDonald Mine isn't expected to mine
sulfide ore. Yet if a part of the 450 million tons of waste rock
turns out to contain sulfides, groundwater could be contaminated
with sulfuric acid, which leaches heavy metals from rock. This
toxic brew of "acid mine drainage" has sterilized entire streams
and is now a big concern at Zortman-Landusky.
Dirt - To build the mine, the company plans to move three miles of
highway. Sediment from construction could clog stream bottoms and
destroy spawning areas.
* Leaking liners - Most
liners rip; then cyanide leaks out. Some could make it to the
river. A dose as small as a grain of rice kills humans. Much less
is fatal to fish.
* Nitrates - Used to blow up
the buttes, nitrates in the river could cause large mats of algae
to grow, which in turn suck oxygen out of the water, choke fish and
clog irrigation ditches.
* De-watering - Since
the pit will descend 700 feet below the surface of the water table,
pumps will lift water out of the pit and discharge it into the
river. This could dry up stream edges, raise water temperatures,
destroy spawning areas and strand migrating fish.