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Gold Mining Blocking Colorado Wilderness Protection Around Browns Canyon

 In Colorado Rafting, Nature & Wildlife

Browns Canyon Arkansas River - Wilderness Aware Rafting

Anyone who’s visited Browns Canyon would agree that the 20,000 acres of natural landscape surrounding it is beautiful, magnificent, and worthy of becoming a national monument as Colorado State Senator Mark Udall proposed in a bill. However, this bill is getting stalled by two groups who staked their claims on gold mines in December 2011 when the ban on gold mining lifted in this area.

More Wilderness, Less Mining

From 1980 to 2011, the Federal Bureau of Land Management designated this area for wilderness study, which prevented anyone from mining there. As soon as the ban expired, the two groups filed for five mining claims along the Arkansas River. Mining would lead to new roads, more development, runoff and more. In 2005, Republican Congressmen Joel Hefley and Republican Senator Wayne Allard tried to protect this area as well but their bills fell through.

Why Gold Mining is Bad

Gold mining these days is not shifting a pan in a river. Retrieving enough gold to make an 18-karat wedding band means extracting 20 tons of ore and waste rock. This ore and waste rock needs to be placed somewhere so trees are cut down to make room. Mining produces toxic mine drainage, which comes from unearthing rocks that have been buried long ago, releasing trapped air and moisture that leads to chemical reactions resulting in acid production.

These acids then leach toxic metals such as arsenic, copper, mercury, and sulfuric acid, which then runs off into various bodies of water, the closest here being the Arkansas River. Gold mining runoff is very toxic for fish and other aquatic creatures. Non-aquatic animals then eat those in the water or drink the water, and you can see the snowball effect from there.

In addition to polluting the water and grounds, extracting gold reveals mercury and when gold is roasted, mercury is shot off into the atmosphere. If they don’t roast the ore, then it’s doused in cyanide, which is very lethal. Mercury with all of its negative health effects, never degrades but at least cyanide does. Unfortunately, during the degradation process of cyanide, lots of byproducts then contaminate the groundwater.

Browns Canyon a Wildlife Haven

Browns Canyon is home to a large variety of animals and referred to as a mecca for wildlife. Visitors can often see bighorn sheep, golden eagles, elk, peregrine falcons, bobcats, black bears, mule deer, mountain lions, bats, and more. There are 100 miles of the Arkansas River designated as Colorado’s longest stretch of Gold Medal Trout Water.

The flora, fauna, and adventures around Browns Canyon attract over 250,000 rafters, 100,000 anglers, hunters, hikers, and other guests each year, generating over $55 million in revenue for Colorado. Gold mining would not only pollute the water, ground, and air, it also results in erosion, sinkholes, and loss of biodiversity by destroying fragile ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

In order to prevent this bill from dragging along in Congress, sponsors are thinking of asking President Obama to help rush this and declare Browns Canyon a national monument.

Find out how you can help support the protection of Browns Canyon by visiting Friends of Browns Canyon.

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