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SAVING THE SODA BUTTE.

A FEW YEARS AGO, a small group of residents in Cooke City, Montana, at the outskirts of Yellowstone National park, decided they would oppose the re-opening of a defunct gold mine on a nearby peak in the Beartooth Mountains above their town. Their opposition to re-opening of the old New World Mine got our attention through the efforts of Richard Parks, owner of Parks Fly Shop in Gardiner, Montana. We ran the story and other magazines and newspapers picked it up, and before long the President of the United States appeared in Cooke City to offer a handsome sum of money for the mine--which coincidentally lay next to Yellowstone Park and in the headwaters of the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River. The federal government saved the day: The New World Mine would not be re-opened.

The astounding aspect of this story is that eight people (through the Beartooth Alliance, which they formed) started a ball rolling that quickly gathered mass until it steamrolled onto the national radar screen and brought a decision from the White House. Stunning. A few relatively unknown people can still make big things happen.

Now we learn from the Beartooth Alliance founders that the job is only half done. The McLaren tailings impoundment, left behind by the original mine, just a long flycast from Cooke City, is a time bomb waiting to explode and destroy a river that runs into Yellowstone National Park, thence into the Lamar River (in the park) and on into the mighty Yellowstone River.

The McLaren tailings don't look like much. I stood on them last summer and wondered: "What's the big deal? It's just a large mound of dirt." My companion Howard "Howdy" Sloan, one of the original Gang of Eight, has a family summer home just downstream of the tailings impoundment on Soda Butte Creek. He knew different.

Howdy pointed out that the McLaren mine tailings are an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Concealed beneath the mine tailings' thin layer of topsoil lies extremely toxic chemical mine wastes, and with the first unusual spring runoff event, those wastes will be released into the creek. The chemicals will poison--actually, they have repeatedly poisoned--the Soda Butte. If the event is powerful, the poisons will kill all the fish in this Lamar River headwater and possibly kill fish and other vital aquatic organisms in the Lamar and stretches of the Yellowstone in the park.

Surprisingly, the McLaren tailings pose far more threat to the Yellowstone Park ecosystem than what had been posed by the notorious New World Mine. The tailings mound sits directly in the Soda Butte headwater; in fact, the stream originally ran through it. The remedial work done by past mine owners is totally inadequate: It's a simple covering waiting to rupture.

What must be done to end this ever-present threat aimed at the Yellowstone Park ecosystem is outright removal of the tailings from the Soda Butte Creek watershed. As recommended by Cooke City Store owner Ralph Glidden (see Forum on page 16), the McLaren mine tailings removal should be of the highest priority for the U.S. Forest Service (on whose land a large portion of it sits) and the U.S. Park Service (managers of Yellowstone Park, the first park in the U.S. national park system).

Large accomplishments have small beginnings. The readers of this magazine helped to put the New World Mine issue in the national public eye. We can now help to put the McLaren mine tailings cleanup on the public high-priority agenda. For those of us who have fished the Soda Butte, the Lamar, and the upper Yellowstone, this is Issue Number One. We intend to help the little Cooke City Gang of Eight in its latest fight to clean up our most precious national backyard.
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Title Annotation:New World Mine and McLaren tailings impoundment
Author:RANDOLPH, JOHN
Publication:Fly Fisherman
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:632
Previous Article:FLY FISHING IN JAPAN.
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