SILVERTON, Oct. 8, 7:46 p.m. – The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service carried out commemorative activities last month to recognize 10 years of progress in cleaning up abandoned mines on federal lands.
In Silverton, BLM and Forest Service officials joined representatives of community groups, local and state governments, and other federal agencies to mark the 10th anniversary of pilot projects launched in the
“The historic mining of hardrock minerals such as gold, lead, copper, silver, and uranium was a powerful incentive for exploration and settlement of the American West,” said Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell at the Sept. 26 event in Silverton. “Mineral development often provided the economic base on which many remote communities were established. But when ore bodies were mined out and miners left to find other new deposits, they often left behind a legacy of abandoned mines, safety hazards and contaminated land and water.”
“Cleaning up these sites is an ambitious goal, and we can’t do it alone,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell. “If we’re going to continue our progress, we’ll need public support and cooperation from local landowners. We’ll also need strong partnerships with state and local agencies, the mining industry and local volunteer groups such as the Animas River Watershed Group. Today we take note of what we’ve accomplished together over the last 10 years, and we look forward to further progress in the years ahead.”
In the mid-1990s, recognizing the threats to water quality and public health, the BLM and Forest Service – as well as other federal agencies (including the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency) – developed a watershed-based approach for cleaning up abandoned mines. Since that time, with the support of state agencies and local watershed groups, along with funding by Congress, the BLM and Forest Service have cleaned up hundreds of mine sites and eliminated thousands of safety hazards at abandoned mines. A publication describing those accomplishments, titled Abandoned Mine Lands, A Decade of Progress Reclaiming Hardrock Mines, plus additional information about the Silverton event can be accessed at www.blm.gov/aml and www.fs.fed.us/geology/aml-index.htm.
Silverton was chosen for the location of the commemorative event because it is in the
Abandoned Mine Program Leaders George Stone, of the BLM, and Tom Buchta, of the Forest Service, pointed out that some 47,000 abandoned mine sites have been identified on more than 450 million acres of federal land managed by the BLM and the Forest Service. About 20-30 percent of these mines have dangerous human safety hazards, such as open mine shafts and adits (mine passages), as well as explosives and toxic chemicals. As many as 10 percent may be causing damage to soil and water resources by releasing heavy metals, acidity and radioactivity from underground and open pit mines, waste rock and mill tailings facilities.