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Is There A Geologist In The House?

Mineral production from the Salmon National Forest began during 1866 when placer gold was discovered in Leesburg Basin.

Is There A Geologist In The House?
Salmon-Challis National Forest (photo:

Is There A Geologist In The House?

By Darr Moon, Geological Engineer, PE/PLS

I stumbled across a map of Idaho’s Mining Districts and couldn’t help notice the multitude of Districts and their coverage across our minerally endowed state. You might as well be surprised to discover that the lands encompassed by the Salmon-Challis National Forest are among the most prolifically populated with mining districts. Who would have guessed?

I read the Draft Assessment for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, an assessment that will guide the Forest’s future development plan for mining and mineral development for the next twenty years and found only five pages of boilerplate dribble on the subject; nothing about the Forest’s world-class metal reserves. No mineral evaluation, no synopsis of mineral reserves, no overview of strategic metals, nothing on active, historic or future mining potential. Zip, zero, nadda…. 

Amazing isn’t it? A not so difficult Google search will list hundreds of mineral reports, many from the prestigious U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey). Nothing reported in the Draft Assessment about this vastly rich and strategically significant mineral cornucopia, much of which is listed for Wilderness designation. Let me share some easy to obtain informative data that is suspiciously absent in overview of mineral resources.

Mineral Resource Appraisal of the Salmon National Forest (1998)

Mineral production from the Salmon National Forest began during 1866 when placer gold was discovered in Leesburg Basin. Hardrock mining quickly spread throughout the Forest and many deposits containing a wide range of commodities were discovered and developed. Although early records are sketchy, production is estimated to include 940,000 ounces gold, 654,000 ounces silver, 61.9 million pounds copper, 8.9 million pounds lead, 13.9 million pounds cobalt, 208,000 pounds zinc, and 37,000 tons fluorite mill feed.

Mineral resources are large, diverse, and occur in many deposit types including exhalative, stockwork, disseminated, vein, replacement, sedimentary, skarn, breccia pipe, porphyry, and placer. The largest cobalt resource in the United States occurs in the Blackbird Mining District. Other resources include gold, silver, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphate, manganese, iron, fluorite, uranium, thorium, rare earth oxides, and barite”

Gold 940,000 oz x $1,300/oz             = $ 1,222,000,000

Silver 640,000 oz x $15.75/oz            = $      10,080,000

Copper 61.9 Million lbs x $2.66/lbs     = $    164,654,000

Lead  8.9 Million lbs x $0.95/lbs          = $        8,455,000

Cobalt 13.9 Million lbs x $ 16.33/lbs    = $    226,987,000

Total      $ 1,632,176,000  

Not a bad historic return based on current metal prices, likely a small portion of total future reserve capacity. But who’s counting! 

Mineral Resource Appraisal of the Challis National Forest (1991)

The appraisal of mineral resources of the Challis National Forest, Idaho, by the U.S. Bureau of Mines was made so that the mineral resources of the forest could be appropriately considered in land use planning. Information from this study is intended to help the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate mineral resource data into forest plans. This study was done in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, which released a companion report on the geology and mineral potential of the Challis National Forest in 1989.

Mineral development activity in and near the Challis National Forest has been of great economic significance to Idaho and the United States. Since the 1860’s, mines within the forest have produced mineral commodities worth more than $590 million at current (1989) commodity prices. Identified mineral resources have a gross value of about $2 billion at current prices and include eight strategic or critical minerals.

This U.S. Bureau of Mines study identified and described 723 active and inactive mineral properties within the forest. Mineral properties with identified resources were evaluated to determine their economic significance, and an assessment was made of the feasibility of mineral development. Of the 2,516,191 acres in the Challis National Forest, about 390,000 acres were classified as having mining development interest. Commercially important mineral production, mainly of molybdenum, gold, and silver from the Challis National Forest, is likely for the foreseeable future.”

Wonder how they missed this? Probably didn’t give a schist.

From former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke,

Critical Mineral Resources of the United States—Economic and Environmental Geology and Prospects for Future 

Edited by Klaus J. Schulz, John H. DeYoung, Jr., Robert R. Seal II, and Dwight C. Bradley

Professional Paper 1802

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Geological Survey


From the Stone Age to the present, mineral commodities have been essential ingredients for building and advancing civilization. Products built with materials derived from mineral resources include homes and office buildings; cars and roads; computers, televisions, and smart phones; and jet fighters and other military hardware needed to defend the Nation. In short, minerals are essential to advance and protect modern society. 

When the periodic table of elements was first established in the latter half of the 19th century, many of the elements were known to exist in nature, but relatively few were being used by society. Today, discovery of new uses for an increasing number of elements is enabling rapid innovations in technology and materials science. Advances in telecommunications, information technology, health care, energy production, and national defense systems have all been possible through the use of new mineral materials. 

As the importance and dependence of specific mineral commodities increase, so does concern about their supply. The United States is currently 100 percent reliant on foreign sources for 20 mineral commodities and imports the majority of its supply of more than 50 mineral commodities. Mineral commodities that have important uses and face potential supply disruption are critical to American economic and national security. However, a mineral commodity’s importance and the nature of its supply chain can change with time; a mineral commodity that may not have been considered critical 25 years ago may be critical today, and one considered critical today may not be so in the future. 

The U.S. Geological Survey has produced this volume to describe a select group of mineral commodities currently critical to our economy and security. For each mineral commodity covered, the authors provide a comprehensive look at (1) the commodity’s use; (2) the geology and global distribution of the mineral deposit types that account for the present and possible future supply of the commodity; (3) the current status of production, reserves, and resources in the United States and globally; and (4) environmental considerations related to the commodity’s production from different types of mineral deposits. The volume describes U.S. critical mineral resources in a global context, for no country can be self-sufficient for all its mineral commodity needs, and the United States will always rely on global mineral commodity supply chains. This volume provides the scientific understanding of critical mineral resources required for informed decision making by those responsible for ensuring that the United States has a secure and sustainable supply of mineral commodities.

The Nation was largely built on the products produced from its mineral deposits. The future will also be built on a foundation of minerals, many of which will continue to be discovered and produced from across the country.

Ryan K. Zinke

Secretary of the Interior


This book presents resource and geologic information on the following 23 mineral commodities currently among those viewed as important to the national economy and national security of the United States: antimony (Sb), barite (barium, Ba), beryllium (Be), cobalt (Co), fluorite or fluorspar (fluorine, F), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), graphite (carbon, C), hafnium (Hf), indium (In), lithium (Li),manganese (Mn), niobium (Nb), platinum-group elements (PGE), rare-earth elements (REE), rhenium (Re), selenium (Se), tantalum (Ta), tellurium (Te), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti), vanadium (V), and zirconium (Zr). For a number of these commodities–for example, graphite, manganese, niobium, and tantalum—the United States is currently wholly dependent on imports to meet its needs.”

So, let’s see what we know of the above highlighted elements that might be locked up in this proposed Wilderness wasteland.



Rare Earth Elements



Idaho On Fire Facebook Group

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