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Coeur d?Alene Basin Project Benefits Waterfowl

Picture of a heron on the water's edge.

An innovative project benefiting birds and other wildlife is now under way in the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site in northern Idaho. More than a century of mining activities in the Silver Valley area has contaminated the Coeur d?Alene River, its floodplain and wetlands with high levels of heavy metals. Water birds often eat the lead-contaminated sediment and suffer serious toxic effects. In fact, an annual "die-off" of waterfowl has occurred in the area for decades.

As part of the Superfund site?s interim 2002 Record of Decision, a private landowner, federal, state and non-profit parties are now working together on a groundbreaking effort to reduce waterfowl exposure to heavy metals. In 2006, EPA forged a conservation easement with a willing private landowner. Soon after, work began to convert nearly 400 acres of Coeur d?Alene River valley farmland to healthy wetland habitat. Through the Superfund cleanup process, contamination is being addressed, and this area is being made into a protected clean feeding habitat for both migratory and resident swans and other wetland birds. Already, waterfowl and other native wildlife are discovering this new safe feeding ground. (See photo: A heron?s visit is testament to the success of this ambitious habitat conversion effort.)

EPA and the Coeur d'Alene Basin Natural Resource Trustees -- led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with Ducks Unlimited, Inc. -- are coordinating on the restoration and long-term maintenance of the conservation easement area. Settlement and ASARCO trust monies are funding this project, the first of its kind in the Coeur d?Alene Basin. While most of the cleanup efforts for this Superfund site have been aimed at human health protection, this project represents an important step in addressing the Basin?s ecological contamination issues.

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