In their eighth year of marriage, Jan and David Zimmerman quietly removed their gold wedding rings. There had been no angry words; the problem was gold.
was 1990, and the Chicago Mining Corp. was building a cyanide gold
mill above the Zimmermans' home in the tiny town of Pony, Mont.
Concerned about possible pollution of creeks and groundwater in the
surrounding Tobacco Root Mountains, the Zimmermans began asking
What they learned startled them.
Modern gold mining involves massive open pit mines, vast amounts of
cyanide, and leftover tailings piles. They also learned they could
do little to stop the mill.
"It really was a
time of despair. I just took off the ring and never really felt
like putting it back on," says Jan Zimmerman. "My feelings are even
In April 1992 the Zimmermans,
with assistance from the Montana Environmental Information Center,
launched a campaign to boycott gold. They started a grass-roots
campaign in Montana, and mailed information to more than 300
environmental groups nationwide.
After almost two
years of steady work, they are just starting to gain national, and
even international attention. The boycott campaign was written up
in a newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, a country also wrestling with
large-scale gold mining. The campaign was also described in Boycott
News, a publication of Co-op America.
for the slow start, says David Zimmerman, is that most large U.S.
environmental groups seem leery of the idea. "It's a little too
off-the-wall for them," Zimmerman says.
environmental organizations, such as the Mineral Policy Center or
the Sierra Club, officially advocate "responsible mining." A
boycott connotes a more confrontational stance, closer to what
those in the mining industry often describe as the hidden agenda of
all environmental groups: Stop mining. Period.
But momentum is increasing. Evan Conroy,
national merchandise manager for Greenpeace, says his organization
is considering dropping gold jewelry from its gifts catalog.
Will Patric, a Bozeman-based circuit rider for
the Mineral Policy Center, says although the center hasn't
officially responded to the boycott, he thinks it makes sense.
"Frankly, I could not buy gold now," said
Patric. "When you see the landscape being torn apart for a few
ounces of gold, it's tragic."
are starting to weigh in. Last fall, Bruce Farling, then
conservation director for the Clark Fork-Pend d'Oreille Coalition,
said, "We haven't officially joined the boycott, but I encourage
people not to buy gold. If you want gold, let's mine people's
jewelry boxes before we mine the headwaters of the Blackfoot
River." Farling's coalition works to restore mining-ravaged
watersheds in Montana and northern Idaho.
Zimmermans add that with increased mining, grass-roots support for
a gold boycott is spreading.
"I think everyone
I've talked to in the environmental community, particularly in the
West, has really lost their taste for gold," says Jan Zimmerman.
"The extraction methods used in modern mining are so ugly and the
potential for disaster is so great."
Thieltges and his family have farmed for generations near Chester,
not far from the Sweetgrass Hills in north-central Montana. They
printed 2,500 "Boycott Gold" stickers after hearing that mining
companies were planning to mine the hills.
just went out on my own and had some printed," says Thieltges. "I
thought it was a way to educate people."
Coincidentally, while the Zimmermans were
organizing a gold boycott in Montana, Kay McDonald and Susan Smith
were initiating a comparable, but separate effort in Tonasket,
Wash., - -Boycott Gold Jewelry."
Zimmermans, McDonald decided to launch her boycott after a
fruitless fight to stop a proposed gold mine and mill near her home
in Chesaw, Wash. (HCN, 11/29/93). During that effort, she heard
Battle Mountain Gold executives threaten to move operations to
Third-World countries lacking environmental
"If we chase them off to a
Third-World country, then all we've done is move the trouble,"
McDonald says. The long-term answer is to reduce consumption of
gold, she adds.
"I'm not asking anybody to give
up their wedding rings or Grandmother's brooch. I'm just saying,
"Don't buy any more." People should focus on recycled gold, old
gold. I think there's a lot of gold in the world that's already
been mined, and I think there are other ways to decorate
Meanwhile, the Zimmermans and
Montana Environmental Information Center are saving money to buy a
full page ad in The New York Times to inform Eastern consumers of
the devastation caused by Western gold
For more information
contact Jan and David Zimmerman, Boycott Project Box 253, Pony, MT
59747 (406/685-3481). Or contact Boycott Gold Jewelry, Kay
McDonald, Box 1514, Tonasket, WA 98855
is a free-lance writer in Anaconda,