German Gulch - Montana
A River Ruined?
For those who believe that a rod and reel are vacation essentials, Montana is the place to be, and German Gulch, a small stream in the upper Clark Fork River basin, is one of the state's best. Here, avid anglers have been working hard to conserve a unique population of westslope cutthroat trout or “cutties” from pollution resulting from waste left behind courtesy of the 1872 Mining Law.
In 1998, not far from German Gulch, Pegasus Gold opened the Beal Mountain mine. The Canadian-based company boasted of a new, environmentally friendly operation that would result in no discharge of pollutants into local waterways. A decade later, the mine was closed, the company was bankrupt, and selenium, cyanide and other pollutants gold were escaping into German Gulch and other rivers and streams in the Big Sky state. A $6 million reclamation bond posted by the company has proven inadequate for the complicated cleanup, which some estimate could run to $40 million.
Unfortunately stories like Beal Mountain are all too familiar. Under a common interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law, federal regulators cannot deny a mining company a permit, even if toxic chemicals are used in proximity to valuable fish and wildlife habitat.
- Tom Dickson, "Precious Metals, Precious Trout: Can Montana continue extracting the one without harming the other?" Montana Outdoors, May-June 2009. (PDF)
- Robert McClure, "Pegasus Gold -- from boom to bankruptcy," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 13, 2001.