The Idaho Cobalt Project will mine cobalt from a deposit deep beneath a mountain in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Earlier miners culled the mineral from the 12-acre pit associated with the now-defunct Blackbird Mine (above). Photo by Phil Taylor.
SALMON, Idaho -- On a remote, forested plateau deep inside the Salmon-Challis National Forest, a Canadian mining firm is hoping to revive domestic production of cobalt, a mineral deemed crucial to post-World War II national security, but whose production has since virtually disappeared from American soil.
By this time next year, the Idaho Cobalt Project plans to unearth about 800 tons of ore a day from beneath these rugged mountains about 40 miles west of Salmon to be used in the production of hybrid vehicle batteries and industrial products ranging from jet engines to prosthetic hips.
But unlike the scores of miners who rushed to this state in the 19th century in search of precious minerals like gold, silver and molybdenum -- leaving behind a toxic legacy of polluted streams and metal-laden tailings -- the developers of this mine say their project will leave the Salmon River watershed in better condition than they found it.
The plan, which includes safeguards to prevent watershed contamination and a conservation fund to restore the Salmon River, has drawn the support of environmental groups who say the project may have raised the bar on hardrock mining.