Wild Salmon Center

Exchange: How to Rebuild a River

Exchange: How to Rebuild a River

Russian partners join American scientists on a learning tour of Western rivers reclaimed from mining.

Nine of our Russian partners traveled across Montana and Idaho this fall to learn first hand how U.S. companies and government agencies rehabilitate fish-bearing creeks damaged by placer mining.

The trip was part of Wild Salmon Center’s exchange program, which brings together Russian and American scientists and conservationists. The US Forest Service has been a long time partner in our exchange program and Forest Service staff from the Idaho Panhandle National Forest led this fall’s tour.

Exchange participants visit the Jack Waite Mine site in the Coeur d’Alene River watershed.

Over a week in October, Russian partners traveled to seven different reclamation sites with US Forest Service biologists and reclamation specialists, who explained the legal and physical processes for putting mined streams back together. Placer mining involves diverting portions of a stream bed into a mining process to extract gold and other precious metals. On the tour, partners visited streams that had been placer mined for gold, silver and lead. These streams required extensive sealing operations to permanently impound toxic tailings, as well as earth moving and re-vegetation programs to restore habitat for native trout and other fish and wildlife.

Forest Service biologist Dan Scaife spoke about his office’s extensive work with local communities to demonstrate the value of reclamation and toxic tailings control. He also explained the value of regulatory tools, including the requirement that companies set aside financial bonds for future reclamation, a rule that is currently under attack in Washington.

“I was very impressed by how deeply restoration is embedded in the American legal system, such as necessity for reclamation bonds,” said Anton Ulatov, one of the visiting scientists from Kamchatka. “I was also impressed by the transparency of the legal process and apparent absence of corruption. I would like to thank WSC, U. S. Forest Service and all individuals who were involved in organizing this exchange for their effort and dedication, which resulted in an excellent learning opportunity.”

The reclamation tour was especially relevant to some of the delegation hailing from Sakhalin Island, where WSC partners are working to reclaim damaged sections of the Langeri River after 40 years of placer mining there. 50 miles of the Langeri river bed has been impacted, and the mining company has not been required to reclaim damaged stream sections.

The Langeri is a stronghold for the long-lived but endangered Sakhalin taimen, and it hosts strong runs of commercially viable pink and chum salmon.

Our partners at Sakhalin Environment Watch and Wild Salmon Territory are currently putting together a mining reclamation plan for the Langeri. Kiril Korznikov is one of the scientists who will be building the reclamation plan.

“This exchange broadened my knowledge in many areas,” Korznikov said. “I will be able to apply this new knowledge not only for planning the restoration of Sakhalin’s Langeri River, but also in my scientific work.”

Russian partners and WSC Western Pacific Director Mariusz Wroblewski (far left) visit Moon Gulch mine reclamation site in the Coeur d’Alene River system.

Wild Salmon Center has now facilitated over 50 exchanges among Pacific salmon nations. Three years ago, Sakhalin Environment Watch’s Dmitry Lisitsyn led a delegation of Russian experts to British Columbia to help local salmon advocates understand potential impacts from a liquefied natural gas plant proposed over prime salmon habitat at the mouth of BC’s Skeena River. Russian scientists’ expertise helped build the case against the BC project, which ultimately was abandoned.

Our exchange program is supported by the New York-based Trust for Mutual Understanding and U. S. Forest Service’s International Program.

“Sharing knowledge and expertise across borders is one of the most important things Wild Salmon Center does,” said Mariusz Wroblewski, WSC’s Western Pacific program director. “We can elevate the most effective approaches to protecting salmon and avoid repeating the mistakes in salmon habitat that have plagued every territory on the Pacific Rim.”

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