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Miners, Conservationists Tussle Over Old Mine

Conservationists and an Indian tribe are gearing up for a new round of battles over an old gold mine in the heart of Idaho's Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The NezPerce Tribe and five Idaho conservation groups have filed a formal objection to the US Forest Service's approval of a four-mile long road to be carved out in the back country to allow access to an old mining tunnel.

The American Independence Mines and Minerals company wants to drill core samples to determine if the old Golden Hand mine might be profitable to re-open. The tribe contends the road and mining activities will damage a pristine stream in the area near McCall Idaho and infringe on rights granted in two treaties signed in the 1850s.

But Keith Lannom, supervisor of the Payette National Forest said under the law, he's got no choice. Even in a designated wilderness area, such as the Frank Church Wilderness, existing mining claims are still valid, he said.

The Golden Hand mine was discovered in 1889, long before the mountainous region was put under federal protection in a law written largely by then-Idaho Senator Frank Church.

Several administrative and legal cases have tested validity of the claims since the wilderness area was established, and the mining company is relying on new environmental reviews conduced by the Forest Service.

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