Update Jan. 20, 10 a.m.
The CuMo Mining Company has announced that using ore-sorting technology, it would be able to extract resources from the molybdenum, silver and copper deposits in the Boise National Forest with greater efficiency.
According to CuMo, the ore deposit is a "stockwork vein deposit"—small tendrils of ore containing processing-grade minerals surrounded by waste materials.
Rather than processing high- and low-value materials together and removing economically valuable metals and minerals afterward, ore-sorting scans rocks and accepts or rejects them before processing. The process is designed to reduce the amount of ore processing, increasing the economic viability of the mining project.
"The overall objective is to have 25 to 50% of the material recovering 85 to 95% of the value, substantially increasing the profitability and reducing the capital and operating costs," the company stated.
CuMo's announcement came Jan. 12—days before three Idaho environmental groups sued the United States Forest Service over allegedly failing to perform adequate analysis and receive public input prior to authorizing CuMo's exploration activities. CuMo has yet to release an official statement about the lawsuit, though a spokesperson for the company, Noelle Laury of Peyron Strategic Communications, noted the timing of the lawsuit in relation to CuMo's ore-sorting announcement.
"I think it's interesting that we come out with this news and four days later there's this lawsuit," she said.
Original Post Jan. 19, 10:04 a.m.
Three Idaho environmental groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service over the CuMo mining exploration project.
The suit—filed Jan. 15 by Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and Golden Audubon Society—alleges the Forest Service authorized CuMo, a Canadian mining company, to explore molybdenum and copper deposits along Grimes Creek in the Boise River watershed before establishing baseline environmental standards and allowing the public to weigh in on its findings.
"Much of this homework should have been done before making this decision," said ICL Public Lands Director John Robison.
The groups involved in the suit say exploration could have a profound impact on the Boise River, which is the source of approximately 25 percent of Boise's drinking water. They've also pointed to other species that could be affected by drilling, like the bull trout living in the headwaters of the river and the Sacajawea bitterroot, a rare plant that grows almost exclusively in the Boise National Forest. While the bitterroot isn't a protected species, environmental groups believe habitat degradation caused by mining exploration could tip the balance.
"The Forest Service has an obligation to not do anything that would contribute to a listing decision," Robison said.
The plaintiffs in the case hope for an injunction to halt CuMo's activities, which are expected to resume in spring 2016. They also hope to send a message to CuMo: Its activities are being closely monitored, and it will be held accountable for any environmental damage its search for natural resources causes. The groups are worried, however, that damage from mining and exploration activities has already been sustained.
"It raises a lot of questions about mining—especially open pit," Robison said.
In April 2015, the U.S. Forest Service released a study finding no significant environmental impact
from CuMo's exploration project, which would drill 259 holes into a region of the Boise National Forest approximately 15 miles north of Idaho City. In October, the Forest Service gave CuMo a green light to resume the project
after years of appeals, environmental tests and public comment periods. According to CuMo officials, there could be as much as $32.8 billion in ore.