Zephyr Minerals Ltd. (Zephyr), is a publicly traded Canadian company located in Nova Scotia (zephyrminerals.com). The company is proposing to open a gold mine in the foothills that serve as a scenic backdrop south and west of Cañon City. The approximate location of the proposed mine is in the Temple Canyon Area, 4 miles southwest of downtown Canon City, 1.5 miles from the city limits, and 1.3 miles from Grape Creek.
During April 2020 the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) submitted comments opposing Zephyr ‘s Notice of Intent to Conduct Prospecting Operations for their Dawson Gold Project in the vicinity of the Grape Creek Canyon, Lower Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area, and Grape Creek State Trust/Wildlife Management Area west of Cañon City. On June 30, 2021 Zephyr submitted a hard rock mining permit (No. M2021046) application to the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS).
The proposed mine lies within the watershed of Grape Creek. Drainage from Dawson Mountain runs through the middle of the proposed mining facility and into an existing wash that empties into Grape Creek, 2.5 miles away. A heavy rain event could wash contaminants from the mining site into Grape Creek. Roughly one mile downstream from this point, Grape Creek enters the Arkansas River. One-half a mile further downstream is the City of Cañon City Water Department (CCWD) water intake.
In a letter dated 8/29/21 (“RE: Comments on Zephyr Mining Application (Permit No. M2021046)”), Colorado BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer Paul Vetrees details multiple reasons why Zephyr’s permit application should be denied. “As a fifth generation native Coloradan, 25-year resident of Cañon City and Fremont County, and professional fly fishing guide operating in the vicinity of the proposed mining plan, I urge you to disapprove Zephyr Gold USA Ltd.’s mining plan application. Zephyr’s mining plan is not in the best interest of Cañon City and Fremont County residents, and the landscape itself, for a multitude of reasons.”
“Zephyr’s multiple water requirements are of particular concern to both myself and many other local residents,” Paul added. “It’s been stated that during mining operations, the proposed mine will require over 178,000 gallons of water per day. As we all know, water is Colorado’s most precious commodity, and during a drought that has lasted nearly two decades, we simply cannot afford to waste local water which most certainly will be drawn from the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River is a major source of water for our community in Cañon City, but it’s also an important resource for local outdoor recreation which includes fishing and whitewater rafting.”
This area is also considered an “area of critical environmental concern” by wildlife habitat-focused organizations. It’s a rugged landscape that’s very unique for Colorado, as its lower elevation eliminates nearly all snowpack during the winter and offers quiet use recreation year-round. Along with its rugged scenic qualities, it’s also home to a host of flora and fauna, a healthy herd of bighorn sheep, numerous mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, ringtails, bobcats and coyotes.
In addition, the area provides sanctuary for Merriam’s turkeys, golden eagles, several species of waterfowl, and it’s an identified nesting area for peregrine falcons. The strip of green vegetation on each side of Grape Creek has been ranked as having very good occurrence of the widely endangered riparian natural tree community that includes narrowleaf cottonwood, piñon pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, Douglas fir woodland mix, as well as occurrences of Arkansas Canyon stickleaf. Grape Creek itself is home to a thriving population of brown and rainbow trout.
As the water in Grape Creek warms during the summer, it becomes much harder for trout to survive. The fact that Zephyr wants to remove water from the creek, consequently reducing the flow downstream, means the water temperatures will become even higher, putting rainbow and brown trout in jeopardy. Once the summer water temperature in Grape Creek climbs above 70 degrees fish will die.
This complex and rare combination of lower elevation canyonland terrain, plants and animals make the Grape Creek canyon and surrounding hills unique and worth protecting. An August 11, 2021, Colorado Sun story (“A new gold mine may be built in southern Colorado. It would ‘wreak havoc,’ environmentalists warn: Zephyr Gold USA Ltd wants to develop the 312-acre Dawson Gold Mine … southwest of downtown Cañon City. The site is surrounded by a wilderness area and subdivision”) by Sue McMillin lays out key facts and other information regarding Zephyr’s proposed mine.
- “A proposed underground gold mine just outside Cañon City town limits has riled neighbors and regional conservation groups who say it would threaten the adjacent lands, wildlife and watershed … It is surrounded by federal land, abuts the proposed Grape Creek Wilderness Area and is within a few hundred yards of homes in the Dawson Ranch subdivision.”
- “‘We could eventually have a 4- to 5-mile underground mine under one of most intact wild and scenic lands in the state,’ said John Sztukowski, conservation director for Wild Connections. ‘This is a critical environmental concern …’”
- “… opposition … has grown exponentially since the company applied … to the Colorado Division of Mining, Reclamation and Safety for a permit for the underground mine.
- “The coalition of opponents includes the Royal Gorge Preservation Project and the newly formed Arkansas Valley Conservation Coalition, which launched the Save Fremont County website.”
- “Jennifer Thurston, director of the Information Network for Responsible Mining, or INFORM, has been watching Zephyr’s activities … ‘The wilderness study area, the state conservation area, Temple Canyon Park – all of those lands are going to be affected,’ she said. ‘If they get this state permit, they will be back … they will be back in the future with a much larger proposal.’”
- “Gary Peterson jumped into the fight a couple of years ago … He formed the Royal Gorge Preservation Project and created a web site to help others find information about mining.”
- “He [Peterson] said the mine is incompatible with the direction Cañon City has gone in recent years by developing trails and emphasizing the natural beauty of the region to attract tourists. Indeed, members of Fremont Adventure Recreation, or FAR, have joined the coalition and are advocating for preservation of the existing trail infrastructure.”]
- “‘They (Zephyr) want to wreak havoc essentially in our backyard with a mine that has a three to five year life,’ Peterson said … ‘How does it sound to have 840 gallons of diesel fuel, chemicals, 13,000 pounds of explosives, 325,000,000 gallons of water, and 50+ workers on site 1,000 feet higher than Grape Creek and the Arkansas River from which millions get their water?’”
- “… the county has more leeway in considering a permit application, and can deny the special use permit if the mine is deemed incompatible with the community.”
“The list of grave concerns goes on and on,” Paul Vertrees noted. “As a professional fly fishing guide who operates guide trips in Temple Canyon, the Grape Creek State Wildlife Area, and the Lower Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area, I know firsthand that any mining activity by Zephyr, or any other exploratory or actual mining company, will have very long-lasting detrimental effects on the landscape, fish, and wildlife in the greater Grape Creek drainage … Their plan is the wrong mine, in the wrong place, and it most certainly does not represent what’s best for our local community and for the landscape surrounding Cañon City.”
Colorado is a headwaters state supplying water to 17 downstream states and millions of people. These waters flow from the mountains into lowlands, supplying drinking water for Colorado’s thirsty Front Range, feeding agricultural fields in Nebraska and Kansas while providing critical wetland habitat for countless wildlife species in other neighboring states. Colorado’s water is vital to the nation.
“In some places mining should not be allowed to proceed because the identified risks to other resources, such as water and wildlife, are too great,” said Colorado BHA Co-Chair David Lien. “No mine should be developed adjacent to a critical water source. The only acceptable risk is zero risk where irreplaceable water resources could be jeopardized. This is simply, without a doubt, the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
Additional/related information see:
- Arkansas Valley Conservation Coalition: https://www.savefremontcounty.org/
- Royal Gorge Preservation Project: http://www.royalgorgepreservationproject.org/
- Wild Connections: http://www.wildconnections.org/conservation/goldmininggrapecreek.html
- Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA). Sensible Mining: Balance Habitat And Industry.” BHA: https://www.backcountryhunters.org/sensible_mining_balancing_habitat_and_industry
- “Critical Minerals Report A Conservation Perspective.” Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: August 2020.
- Also see: https://www.tu.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Critical-Minerals_Interactive.pdf; https://www.tu.org/criticalminerals/#mapping
- Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program National Analysis: https://www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis
- 4,500-Year-Old Mining Pollution in Southwestern Spain: Long-Term Implications For Modern Mining Pollution: http://economicgeology.org/content/95/3/655.short
Founded by Mike Beagle, a former U.S. Army field artillery officer, and formed around an Oregon campfire, in 2004, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice for our nation’s wild public lands, waters and wildlife. With over 40,000 members spread out across all 50 states and 13 Canadian provinces and territories—including chapters in 48 states, two Canadian provinces and one territory, and Washington, D.C.—BHA brings an authentic, informed, boots-on-the-ground voice to the conservation of public lands. Since the Colorado BHA chapter was founded by David Petersen (a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) in 2005 (the first official BHA chapter), they’ve grown their boots-on-the-ground presence to some 2,200 dedicated hunters and anglers.
 David A. Lien. “Zephyr Gold USA’s Notice of Intent to Conduct Prospecting Operations for their Dawson Gold Project.” Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/27/20.
 Sue McMillin. “A new gold mine may be built in southern Colorado. It would ‘wreak havoc,’ environmentalists warn: Zephyr Gold USA Ltd wants to develop the 312-acre Dawson Gold Mine on private land about 6 miles southwest of downtown Cañon City. The site is surrounded by a wilderness area and subdivision.” The Colorado Sun: 8/11/21. https://coloradosun.com/2021/08/11/gold-mine-canon-city-grape-creek/