Cleaning up Coeur d'Alene

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman highlights the history behind a $1.79 billion bankruptcy settlement between the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), owner of the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead from the mines helped fuel World War II's barrage of bullets and Idaho's economic trajectory, but the mine owners knowingly emitted large amounts of lead into the environment, though they could have fixed the emissions control.

Instead, they pursued record profits while poisoning the air with a substance known to make children fidgety, dumb and brain damaged.  The Kellogg mine was on the Coeur d'Alene river, which drains into Lake Coeur d'Alene, which along with the upper reaches of the Spokane River is now one of the nation's largest Superfund sites.

Now, the mine's waste tailings, full of heavy metals like cadmium, spread into Washington, and the state and the E.P.A.'s work is not done.  $435 million of the settlement is set aside specifically for Bunker Hill.  The clean up of the mines is revving Idaho's economic engine now, attracting another $15-20 million in stimulus funds from the Obama Administration.

Read University of Idaho Associate Professor Katherine Aiken's excellent history of the Bunker Hill mine, whose owners were embroiled in Watergate, giving illegal contributions to the EPA to influence its decisions, rather than spending the money on cleaning up the toxic legacy they had left to Idaho and Washington's children.

Rita Hibbard's picture

I'm rooting for the Aspen bears; they saw what's going down with the wolves

I just can't help rooting for the bears of Aspen. Much as I would hate to be that Aspen guy, in his own house last night, only to discover an angry bear ready to tousle me. Or author Susan Orlean, coming home to my vacation cabin, only to find bears had rummaged through my fridge, and consumed the OJ. Or any one of the couple of dozen people who have met up with bears over this summer.  My gosh, would I be upset. Still, the guys with guns are winning, and you know, the bears were there first.

In Aspen last night, the guy heard his dogs going crazy and he attempted to round them up. He was upstairs when the bear came on up and attacked him. After he was injured, he got back downstairs, got a window open, and the bear went out. He was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries, the Aspen Times reports. But the bear has a death sentence.

Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said a trap has been set and seven DOW officers were on scene. Authorities were patrolling the neighborhood.

"Obviously if we find the bear, we'll put him down," Hampton said.

 I like to think that this year the bears had a conference, and they decided to get out there and be proactive. Well, it's probably not gonna work, guys. But they must have seen other options failing. Friendliness didn't work in Montana. In August, wildlife officials shot and killed a 17-year-old female grizzly guilty of being "disturbingly friendly" to campers. One of her cubs bled to death from the tranquilizing dart. The other cub went to the Bronx zoo.  So why not bring it in Colorado, they might have reasoned. But the score isn't pretty so far.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Idaho guv plans to bag a wolf

There's a wolf out there, roaming through the wild ranges of Idaho, with Gov. Butch Otter's name on it. The guv, it seems, plans to buy a wolf tag, now that the state has legalized wolf hunting and set a a quota of 220 wolves this season.

But will he still respect them in the morning?

"You can still hate them and respect their cunning and their place in nature," he told Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. "I'm not real fond of rattlesnakes, but I understand their place in the system."

Environmentalists have said they may sue to stop the wolf hunts. Montana also has set a wolf quota, and will have a hunt this fall.

“Roadless Rule” reinstated for most national forests

A rule banning mining, logging and new road construction on nearly 40 million acres of national forest land was reinstated by a federal court Wednesday. Among those covering the decision by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were the Anchorage Daily News and the Los Angeles Times.

The rule was created during the Clinton administration, but later repealed during the Bush administration in favor of state-level decision making. As a result, the Tongass National Forest and national forests in Idaho are the only areas of forest land that are not protected under the reinstated rule. Another case affecting the rule is going on in the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the approval of a timber sale in the Tongass last month, it will be interesting to see if the Obama administration enforces the “Roadless Rule” by reinstating it for the Tongass as well.

– Emily Linroth

Rita Hibbard's picture

Aryan Nations a 'stain' on Idaho

AP writer Nicholas Geranios looks back at the Aryan Nations, the racist colony built by Richard Butler in Hayden Lake, Idaho. The group is long gone, but memories were recently stirred when the man who shot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. was found to have spent a few days in the area in 2004. Today, the area is home to tourists, country clubs and a posh homes. But the locals haven't forgotten.

"The stain is so deep," said Tony Stewart, a long time resident who helped evict the Aryan Nations, told Gerionas. "We feel stereotyped in a way that is unjust."

Tribal clinic survives by treating non-natives

Spokane Public Radio's Amanda Loder has an interesting story about a clinic on an Indian reservation that stays afloat by treating non-natives. The Benewah Medical Center on the Coeur D'Alene tribe's reservation in Plummer, Idaho, started as a condemned building where a doctor showed up once a week. Now, with income from non-native patients and revenues from the tribe's casino, it's been built into a multi-building complex.