- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Officials want to withdraw 107 acres of public land in east-central Idaho from new mining claims for 20 years to preserve restoration work in two tributaries of the Salmon River used by federally protected chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Friday published a notice in the federal register seeking comments on the plan through Sept. 22.

The notice prevents for the next two years any new mining claims on the land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Placer miners seeking gold in the late 1800s and early 1900s altered Dump Creek and obliterated Moose Creek but restoration work in the 1980s costing $1 million has helped the streams recover.

The area had previously been withdrawn from mining but that expired in 2004.

“It was a really unfortunate oversight,” said Sherry Stokes-Wood of the Forest Service. “Between the Forest Service and BLM, between the two of us, it was overlooked. We’re just trying to get all our ducks back in order.”

Under an 1872 mining law - meant to encourage development of Western land - federal officials don’t have the discretion to deny mining claims. Instead, officials can withdraw land from mining consideration.

Stokes-Woods said no new mining claims have been made on the 107 acres since the ban expired in 2004.

The area is in the Eureka Mining District in Lemhi County, which has a history of mining dating back to the 1890s. Placer miners diverted Moose Creek into Dump Creek to help uncover gold, but didn’t return Moose Creek to its original channel when they finished.

Officials say the greater volume of water flowing through Dump Creek over the next 75 years caused additional erosion with portions of the banks slumping off. Moose Creek was obliterated as a result of the diversion and vegetation grew in the old channel.

Restoration work involved building a diversion system to return Moose Creek to its original channel. Federal officials say the mining ban is intended to protect that diversion work, among other projects.

Forest Service fisheries biologists Bob Rose said both Moose Creek and Dump Creek are designated critical habitat for steelhead and chinook salmon in their lower reaches. The juveniles of both species reside in the cooler water of the creeks during the warm months of summer.

Moose Creek is also designated critical habitat for bull trout. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said surveys of Moose Creek since 1990 have found bull trout, chinook salmon, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. Dump Creek, the agency says, has all those species except bull trout.

“This is critical habitat for some of the last wild salmon and steelhead in the interior Columbia Basin,” said Greg Schoby, fisheries manager for Fish and Game’s Salmon Region.

Though the land to be withdrawn is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, federal rules require the process for mining withdrawal to go through the U.S. Department of the Interior’s BLM.

Jeff Cartwright of the BLM’s Idaho office said the agency will develop an environmental assessment after the comment period closes in September. Interior Department officials will use that document to make a decision about whether to withdraw the Forest Service land from mining claims for 20 years.

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