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River Remediation Paid Off on Small Idaho Stream

A story of the death - and re-birth - of a small Idaho mountain stream has been recorded in meticulous notes jotted down over 20 years by a federal biologist. After years of being fouled by poisonous waste leached out of the old Blackbird mine near Salmon Idaho, Panther Creek was virtually dead through the 1960s and 1980s.

The tumultuous mountain stream was an open sewer, a carrier for arsenic, copper and cobalt, and for roughly 30 miles of its length, hardly a living creature could be found.

But in 1995, managers of the national forest through which the stream tumbled began a restoration effort, just one in a series of long, costly river clean-up projects.

Christopher Mebane, a biologist with the US Geological Survey was one of the first scientists to study the damage. He was determined to find out if all the money and work on remediation -as he put it - "really translated into tangible improvements in fish populations and other elements of an ecosystem."

To his surprise and delight, it did.

Mebane was able to document the speed and extent to which the stream and its surroundings recovered after the cleanup measures started taking hold. Panther Creek is again today home to diverse species including chinook salmon, steelhead, rainbow and bull trout.

Mebane has published his findings in a scientific journal called "Elementa."

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