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Conservation and Projects

Empire Mine Update

By Conservation, Education, Regional and National

Friends and Supporters,

It has been a few months since our last update but rest assured that we have been monitoring the activities and all communications by Phoenix Copper as it relates to the proposed Empire Mine in Mackay, ID, including multiple conversations with the CEO of Phoenix Copper and ongoing contact with other members of management.

Phoenix Planning and Financing Process

As a reminder, there are multiple critical steps in the exploration, development, permitting, determining “Economic Feasibility” and filing of a Plan of Operations (PoO) before construction of a proposed mine like Empire can even be considered. There are also other important input and approvals required; local community input, formal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval of the PoO including an Environmental Impact Statement. Ultimately, final financing “terms and conditions” can only be negotiated after these steps are in place and before actual operations can begin.

In a very recent email to Phoenix Copper about the status and expected completion date of all these critical steps, the CEO didn’t answer the direct questions, but said on November 20 that they “have had for some time …3 groups of investors seriously interested in investing in the project.” Statements and representations about the supposed $300 million financing have been made repeatedly since early 2023. Later in the day, Phoenix Copper formally announced the “Extension of Loan Facility” until December 8th. This $2 million working capital loan will simply enable them to keep their few employees, pay the rent and keep the office lights on.

Our Activities

In an earlier March 2022 Update, we stated that “…our real work will begin when Phoenix Copper/Konnex Resources resubmits its Plan of Operations”. The initial filing of a PoO, submitted in early 2021, was rejected by the BLM as “incomplete”. The Challis office of the BLM responded to us only a few days ago that “We have not received any updates on Konnex’s future. They have not resubmitted a revised PoO and it has been almost 2 years.”

Both Trout Unlimited (TU) and Idaho Conservation League (ICL) have continued to work closely together. TU completed an extensive water rights study of the Big Lost River (May 2023). Both groups have toured the Empire and Navarre Creek sites on the ground and more recently from the air thanks to the help of a nonprofit group called EcoFlight (See more here). ICL has also regularly and frequently been in contact with the BLM, US Forest Service and publicly taken an outspoken position in the Idaho Mountain Express and their own periodic newsletters regarding the importance of remediation practices following mine completion and ongoing monitoring.

We have also been monitoring developments in the Navarre Creek area, where Konnex began early-stage exploration drilling this summer under approval from the US Forest Service. Some of the new roads and drill pads constructed as part of this project were visible from our overflight of the area. We are keeping an eye on the project to ensure that reclamation of temporary roads and drill pads is done properly. It is unclear what the next step in this exploration will be, or where Konnex would obtain the water necessary to proceed with full-scale mining operations (if it ever progressed to that point).

Tom Blanchard, one of our supporters, former Blaine County Commissioner and Mining historian, provided a strong rebuttal directly to Phoenix Copper in the Idaho Mountain Express about mining reclamation activities. Josh Johnson, ICL’s Central Idaho Director publicly challenged a claim by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) (Idaho Mountain Express, 9/15/23) about contamination of the Big Wood River from the Triumph Mine. His statement that “Unfortunately, Triumph is the gift that keeps giving, reminding us that we need to make sure mining companies are held accountable”. His challenge to DEQ is relevant and ultimately directly applicable to any activities by Phoenix Copper.

Our Position

We will continue to stay the course following Phoenix Copper/Konnex closely and questioning them directly when necessary. We thank you for your early and ongoing support and will keep you informed.

Many Thanks,
Joe Chlebowski, Terry Ring, Mark Ullman, Tom Blanchard, Josh Johnson (ICL) and Michael Gibson (TU)

ICL Empire Mine
Phoenix Copper Website

Salmon Recovery and Dam Removal

By Conservation, Regional and National

Thursday, December 14, the White House announced a true whole-of-government
commitment to restoring salmon. It includes massive commitments to invest in the
infrastructure reimbursements which are necessary to replace the services provided by
the four lower Snake River dams.

Credit must go to our own Congressman Simpson. He originally identified the range of
economic and societal winners and losers that benefit or are damaged by the existing 4
Lower Snake River Dams. He proposed a comprehensive plan to “moth-ball” the dams
and compensate/replace the benefits the dams are delivering in Idaho and Washington.

Trout Unlimited has thrown its full weight behind the campaign to deactivate the 4 dams.

Now the Biden administration has picked up the mission. The current proposal is for
Tribally-led renewable energy development, enhanced rail infrastructure to get grain to
market without relying on dams and barges, and infrastructure to support the fish
population. This puts us on the pathway to decommission the four dams.
And it’s more than just that – this is a pathway to restoring salmon to true abundance
throughout the Snake and Columbia Basin, protecting orca, and honoring our
commitments to Tribes.

This is a big deal. There will also be a chorus of objections from those that want to cling
to the status quo. For example, the State of Idaho has already said it will sue to block
these steps forward.

This announcement is the result of years of hard work by many. Credit especially goes
to the Idaho Conservation League which has pushed the issue within the broader
environmental community, working with other NGOs and Tribes from all across the

The announcement today means that the work shifts to implementing the dam removal
and get our salmon back. There is finally a clear path forward for our salmon. We all
need to support it and push it.

Written by Nick Miller, TUH Chapter President

If you want to know more on this very important issue please visit ICL or follow this LINK  to Patagonia Action Works to take a deep dive.

Redband Trout study on the Big Wood River

By Conservation, Education, Regional and National

Local anglers have long valued the Big Wood’s wild trout, but new evidence suggests they’re even more special: they likely represent a unique lineage of native redbands.

The Big Wood River flows through 137 miles of south-central Idaho, originating in the stunning Sawtooth Mountains and flowing through the resort towns of Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Bellevue. A Western freestone river, it offers excellent dry-fly fishing for rainbows. The headwaters offer classic small stream habitat, with many eager fish willing to hit attractors. The main stem offers excellent opportunities to match the hatch, especially in the summer and fall.

The entire watershed has excellent public access, even when it flows through resort neighborhoods in Ketchum and Hailey. For many anglers, a couple of days on the Big Wood can save a trip after frustrating experiences on Idaho’s more challenging waters like the Henry’s Fork and Silver Creek.

I often head to the Big Wood after a morning on Silver Creek, because I enjoy fishing attractors and, admittedly, to restore my ego. Casting an Elk-hair Caddis into pocketwater is refreshingly simple after a few hours of fishing with #22 Tricos.

Like many Idaho waters, the Big Wood was once heavily stocked. Between 1913 and 2000, more than 80 million rainbow trout were released in the river. Most of these originated from California hatchery strains. While the main stem of the river hasn’t been stocked with fertile trout since the 1990s, most assume the river’s wild fish trace their origins back to hatcheries. Some questioned whether rainbow trout were ever native to the Wood River watershed in the first place.

One of those skeptics was Matthew Campbell, fisheries genetics program coordinator for Idaho Fish and Game. Campbell’s state-of-the-art lab in Eagle, Idaho, primarily focuses on the genetics of Idaho’s anadromous salmon and steelhead. But he also pursues other research, including the origins of Wood River’s rainbow trout. Hypotheses and rumors about these fish have circulated for decades.

This confusion has in part been abetted by the names used by anglers and others. “People have always put names to fish, but haven’t always been consistent,” says Campbell. “In the early 1900s, there was a lot of confusion about what a rainbow trout was and what a redband trout was.”

Steelhead are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean and back, whereas the term “redband” typically applies to rainbow trout that remain residents in streams. In Idaho, all rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) share similar genetics, what is commonly called the “interior redband” lineage. Most hatchery fish trace their origins to California and the Pacific Northwest, which is another lineage, called the “coastal rainbow.”

“If you saw evidence of coastal genes in Idaho rainbow trout, you assumed it was evidence of hatchery stocking,” says Campbell.

Numerous genetic investigations conducted on Wood River trout over the last 30 years, using a variety of genetic markers, found genetics similar to coastal rainbow trout. This was regarded as evidence of significant hatchery influence.

“Everything we sampled looked heavily influenced by coastal hatchery lineages,” says Campbell. “Our assumption was that every native redband in Idaho should look like an interior redband. These Wood River rainbows did not. We thought there were probably no pure fish left in the Wood River.”

Case closed? Not quite.

Nagging at Campbell, and other fish geneticists, were some historical hypotheses. The earliest surveys of the watershed identified the Wood River trout as cutthroats. The late trout expert Robert Behnke described Wood River rainbows as a relict form of redband trout, based on a single museum specimen. Clearly, questions about these fish remained unanswered.

Campbell looked at the swirling hypotheses and couldn’t find consensus. What exactly were the Wood River rainbows? Native fish? Hatchery descendants? A mix of the two? Something else?

In an attempt to answer this question, researchers greatly expanded the sampling and genetic screening completed on previous studies.

The latest research compared the trout to other native and hatchery rainbow trout genetics, as well as rainbows from the Henry’s Fork, where the trout are not native. And while there were similarities between Wood River’s rainbows and hatchery coastal rainbows, their genetic makeup was quite different.

The results were presented at the Wild Trout XIII Symposium . Basically, the paper concludes that redband trout were indeed native to the Wood River Basin, that many of the fish show very little sign of hatchery genetics, and the trout represent a unique, previously undescribed lineage of redband trout.

Campbell is quick to note that some trout in the basin do show signs of hatchery trout influence, particularly in the lower basin. In some headwaters, there are rainbow-cutthroat hybrids, likely due to stocking of cutts in high-mountain lakes. (This stocking is now transitioning to triploid cutthroats, which are unable to reproduce.)

But much of the Wood River Basin was and is home to a unique redband trout, presumably found nowhere else in the West.

How could this redband be so different from Idaho’s other native rainbow trout? The story of native trout in the Western United States is, so often, a story of geology.

The Wood River flows into the Malad River before joining the Snake River near the town of Hagerman. The Malad Gorge has a nearly 200-foot waterfall, impassable to fish except under the most extreme floods. This natural barrier may have existed for more than 60,000 years. (As an aside, the Malad Gorge itself is an underrated trout water, especially noted for its excellent dry-fly fishing all winter long.)

A population of redband trout may have become isolated above the waterfall, and remained so during the various floods and geologic changes that influenced other rainbow trout populations in Idaho.

And the uniqueness of the Wood River’s redband trout is similar to what is seen in other fishes in the watershed. The Wood River sculpin is found only in the basin. Mountain whitefish and bridgelip suckers found in the Wood River are also genetically different from other populations of these species.

“These fish have been isolated for a long time,” says Campbell. “And despite extensive stocking, introgression from nonnative hatchery rainbow trout of coastal origin appears to be limited.”

What about those 80 million trout stocked in the Wood River? It could be that these fish were not well adapted to local conditions and did not outcompete the native trout. As many were stocked when “catch and keep” was the norm, it could be that anglers quickly caught the stockers. Whatever the case, today’s Wood River redband trout are, largely, native and unique.

Idaho anglers have always regarded the Wood River as special. It’s a place to take novice anglers, as they can often fool a few trout on dry flies. There are great sections of the Wood River just a couple minutes’ drive from the area’s resort hotels. But you can also experience trout fishing in a wilderness setting, with jaw-dropping mountains as a backdrop.

The Wood River system faces similar challenges to many Western rivers, particularly drought and increased demand for water. But the river’s trout population remains robust. Fly fishers remain among the watershed’s most important allies.

A growing number of anglers have a passion for native trout, pursuing “cutt slams” and recording catches through initiatives like the Western Native Trout Challenge. This interest has highlighted the plight of native trout; most species and subspecies occupy only a fraction of their historic range. But the increased attention and research have also brought some welcome news. The greenback cutthroat, once declared extinct, isn’t. And anglers are now fishing for it in Colorado. Ditto for the San Juan cutthroat trout. The uniqueness of the Wood River redband is another new finding that offers hope for native fish.

I’ve written about Idaho conservation for more than two decades, and I’ve sat in the meetings where speakers noted that rainbow trout weren’t native to the Wood River. This was based on information that looked scientifically valid. But, as Campbell warns, you have to be careful about assumptions.

It turns out the Wood River redband trout should be considered a jewel of the Wood River, different from those found in any other river. “There’s something special about the Wood River drainage,” says Campbell. “I have been speaking to local angling groups about this research. They love this river and now they have another reason to be proud of what they have.”

November 21, 2023By Matthew L. Miller. **HTU does not own the rights and did not write the article

Original Article in the Fly Fisherman

Public Comment: Kilpatrick Bridge

By Conservation, Education, Regional and National, Volunteer

Need for Public Comment: Deadline November 17th, 2023

Please consider filing comments in support of sustained ADA and public access. Public comments on the design plans are due by November 17th, 2023, before finalization in the spring. You are welcome to use our email template below and submit it to Sarah Beardsley at

Background: Kilpatrick Bridge Update

  •  The County has funding to replace Kilpatrick Bridge. The bridge is structurally unsound
    and needs replacement – full details here: (Project Plans and Timeline).
  •  The County is seeking public comment on the project.
  • Construction of the new bridge is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2025.
  • The new bridge will be 108 ft by 28 ft, considerably larger than the existing structure.
  • This will allow for pedestrian flow on the bridge as one car passes through,
    increasing safety and ADA access.
  • The bridge will not have a center pylon in the stream, which will improve flow,
    and the abutments will be considerably larger.
  • Existing public access points to Silver Creek must be shifted, including the back access to the s-turns, and the duck blind.
  • The Save Silver Creek Alliance (SSCA) hopes to move the ADA access/fishing
    platform downstream.
  • The Nature Conservancy is committed to improving the backside float tube
    walk-in and duck blind access.
  • The existing parking area will get a new layout, and the bathroom will remain.
  • The working group involved in construction – TNC, SSCA, Blaine County, Keller
    Associates, and LHTAC – state they intend public access should remain available and
    accessible in a similar manner as it is now, with shifting entry points.

Email & Public Comment Template:

Subject: Public Access in Kilpatrick Bridge Redesign

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing as a concerned community member regarding the proposed redesign and replacement of the Kilpatrick Bridge.

While I understand the need for bridge improvements, please design those improvements
in an manner that preserves the existing or equivalent public access upstream and downstream of the bridge via footpaths and float tubes.

Maintaining established public access points to the waterway is crucial. All users of the Silver Creek Preserve and Pond rely on this access for recreational and professional reasons. Before construction begins or plans are finalized, please ensure access is preserved in a manner equal to or better than it currently is during and after bridge construction.

I appreciate your time and consideration in addressing these concerns before finalizing the construction plans. Please provide clarity on how public access will be preserved and consider alternatives that balance the bridge and it’s functionality with minimal environmental impact.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

[Your Full Name]

Empire Mine

By Conservation, Regional and National

Empire Mine update from Mike Gibson August 2022

Greetings Hemingway TUers,

The Empire Mine proposed for Mackay in 2021 is a significant development for all fishermen and residents who use and occupy the the Big Lost River and its valley.

Below is the best current analysis to date of the status of the proposed mine-reopening as well as a list of serious issues that must be weighed before the mining operations are permitted.

Please see below for an important and timely update on the Empire Mine in Mackay from our friends that are monitoring the issue. As of yet the Managing Agencies have not launched a public scoping process on the issue, but will keep you informed of any opportunities to comment when they occur.

Nicholas Miller
Hemingway Chapter President

To Our Concerned Friends of Mackay and The Big Lost River,

You have likely seen recent communications from Phoenix Copper in both the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Mountain Express. Both pieces are intended to appeal at the highest level to readers to support the clean energy transition with American minerals, copper especially, while also following the standards for public companies in the Environmental, Sustainability and Governance areas. These are very appropriate goals BUT they do not give companies the green light to mine in all places.

As you know, collectively our objective has been to follow Phoenix Copper diligently and ultimately to shape the Empire Mine project and follow-on mining to follow the highest standards to protect public lands, the Big Lost River valley, the town of Mackay and the Big Lost River itself. Community participation is essential to ensure that mine development considers all impacts to the environment, not just the company’s business plan.

In doing so, we find Pheonix Copper’s public facing information focused on current exploration efforts and securing additional mineral leases. But that information is often lacking and inconsistent with respect to mine financing, development, and operation. Our concerns are greatest in the following areas:

1. ECONOMIC FEASIBILITY STUDY – While likely the critical study for determination of mineral reserves, operations plans, and obtaining financing, this study has yet to be released to the public.

2. MEANINGFUL PUBLIC PARTICIPATION – A Konnex Resources (mine operator) local action committee was formed in March with membership skewed towards mine supporters. A monthly newsletter was also started. While touted as a source of community input, no meetings have been held since April and the newsletter has not been published since then. It is unclear whether these efforts will continue. While occasionally mentioning the importance of this project to the local community, it should be noted that Phoenix Copper is a London, England-based company with a Board of Directors that is almost exclusively non-US residents, chartered outside of the United States, and answering to shareholders that are not from Idaho.

3. WATER RESOURCES – Conflicting statements have been made about the quantity and source of water needed for mining operations.  While the Big Lost River water is fully allocated and the arid valley is extremely water limited, little outreach has been done with local stakeholders pertaining to current and possibly future water needs.

4. JOBS AND LOCAL/REGIONAL ECONOMIC BENEFITS – While the proposed Empire Mine site and processing operations are located literally on Mackay’s “back doorstep”, access is proposed through the center of town and processing is near and upslope from the Big Lost River. These issues have never been defined, even generally. Other issues like changes to the valley and the town of Mackay (roads, bridges, traffic and other infrastructure) are also not identified. Air quality issues from tailings dust and noise pollution from blasting, transportation, crushing, and processing have also received minimal disclosure thus far.

5. SITE REMEDIATION AND RECLAMATION – It is simply unknown at this time if Phoenix Copper will ultimately have the financial resources necessary to provide the cash bond for this mining project based on the accuracy of their estimates of future costs. There are many examples of mine failures where the State and local communities were ultimately required to bear that burden. The Zortman and Landusky mines in Montana, the Grouse Creek Mine near Stanley and the Triumph Mine in Blaine County are all relevant and ongoing cautionary examples.

The original Plan of Operations (PoO) for this project was filed in June 2021, but the BLM deemed that initial submission to be incomplete. As of early August 2022, Konnex has not yet filed a revised plan to the BLM to our knowledge. The BLM must have a complete PoO in hand prior to initiating the Environmental Impact Statement process (which will include public participation).

Thank you for your continued support and interest in the proposed Empire Mine and its potential adverse impact on the Big Lost River Valley, town of Mackay, and the Big Lost River.


Josh Johnson (ICL), Michael Gibson (TU), and concerned citizens Joe Chlebowski, Terry Ring, and Mark Ullman


If you have questions or comments please reach out to or

*Photo from Idaho Conservation League: looking from behind the mine towards the town of Mackay

Survey of the Lower Big Lost River 2021

By Conservation

Big Lost River Tailwater: Fish Population Estimates

In early April of this year, we conducted our seventh population estimate to survey the fish populations in the tailwater of the Big Lost River, where we caught 1,012 Rainbow Trout in the survey.  We are most interested in gathering data on the Rainbow Trout and Mountain Whitefish populations in this portion of the river.  Referring to the figure below, abundances of both species are increasing compared to our last surveys conducted in 2018.  Rainbow Trout abundance has increased 26% and Mountain Whitefish abundance has increased 57%.

Read the full article here:

Past Projects

By Conservation

Lake Creek Project

Lake Creek Lake sits in a beautiful setting and is one of the places families in the community gather to teach their children about fishing.  There is little stream habitat below the lake  in which fish can hold and survive.  This project was done enhance the stream to provide better habitat for trout to live in.

Volunteers and Staff from TU and the US Forest Service performed a stream enhancement project on Lake Creek this October 2015.  The enhancement  consisted of adding large woody debris in-stream to add fish habitat and assist with stream hydraulics.  Volunteers moved log sections, secured them in-stream, and performed additional riparian enhancement work in 2014.  In 2015 phase 2, took place over three days.   Volunteers planted a variety of stream side vegetation that will provide, shade, habitat and stabilization to the habitat.  Lots of digging through rocky soils presented a challenge but the volunteers were undaunted.

Restoration of this area may continue in the future.  We will evaluate the impact of work completed in a few years to see if more restoration is viable.


Current Projects

By Conservation

 Box Car Bend Clean-up & Maintenance

Every Spring, Usually in May

The Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited  has been partnering with The Wood River Land Trust since 2006 on this annual project. Each year we provide maintenance to the accesses and trails at Box Car Bend on the Big Wood River. 

 Participants of all ages helped  pull invasive weeds, clean trails from overgrowth and crab grass, put down wood chips on the trails and maintain the erosion control barriers.
A few hours of hard work are followed up by a BBQ lunch and snacks.    
Volunteers should bring appropriate clothing including  hats, sun glassess, and work gloves.
Tools to bring: garden rakes, scoop shovels, hoes, Wheel Barrows

Contact for this project is  Carmen Northen at flyfishngirl@cox

Fishing Access Maintenance

One of the ongoing projects the Hemingway Chapter is involved in, is marking and maintaining access to the Big Wood river.  We have been doing this for over a decade and Board Member Dave Spaulding, has been the lead on this effort. In 2011 we began posting fishing regulation and access signs in English and Spanish on almost all of the Big Wood river accesses. We continue to maintain the accesses clearing them of overgrowth and making them visible.  This year we will again provide maintenance to these accesses and ensure regulation and access signs are posted.  Usually the project is done by 4 to 6 people over several days.  This year members of the TU Board gathered together to clear the access at the two Flying Heart access points.  These two parking have been closed down by the homeowners association.  Blaine County Commissioners, Silver Creek Outfitters and TU Hemingway Chapter are in the process of trying to resolve this issue.    We parked just off of the highway and walked into the access sights and cleared the trail . We will be sending out notices of the dates for this project,  once we have them scheduled. Volunteers are needed to participate in one day or all of them.

ERC Clean Sweep

Each spring since 2017 the Hemingway Chapter supports and participates with a team in the ERC “clean sweep” of the Wood River Valley.  Volunteers join together and clean up the river and banks along the Big Wood River at River Run access up and down stream.   We have found and removed a chaise lounge , burnt up guitar, a muffler system and lots of beverage bottles and cans, road cones and general debris.  Our team has won the “best spirit” award and “most unusual find” awards.  This is a fun event and accomplishes our goal of protecting our rivers.