Grim death toll for tundra swans in N. Idaho

Old toxic mining waste along the Coeur d’Alene River kills at least 150 a year-

Toxic marshes deadly to swans: Coeur d’Alene River laden with lead from Silver Valley mining. By Spokesman-Review in the Seattle Times.

This is not really a new story in the sense that it happens every year.  I knew that in years past a local conservation group used to have a sarcastic “Dead Swan Days.” The mining waste from a hundred years of silver mines and smelting along the South and main fork of the Coeur d’Alene constitute perhaps the largest Supefund toxic cleanup site in the Unites States. The EPA has been working on it for about 25 years.






  1. Virginia Avatar

    Every time a story about Idaho is posted, I find myself thinking this governor of yours sounds like a thug. How does someone like that get elected to a position where he can do so much harm to the environment of a beautiful state? Isn’t there anyone in that entire state who could run against and beat him?

  2. Ken Cole Avatar

    In this state you have to hold your nose to vote. Even for the Democrats.

    The state of Idaho has little to say about the Superfund site. I guess the heavy metals have affected how people vote.

  3. kt Avatar

    That and the mercury rain from the Nevada gold mines – speaking of worthless Western Democrats … Dirty Harry Reid, the best friend of all kinds of mining despoilation – and an enabler of abusers of public land of every stripe – just like the Idaho Democratic leadeship.

  4. DB Avatar

    From what I’ve heard the Coeur d’Alene C of C was never very enthusiastic about deisgnating the lake a superfund site in the first place….wouldn’t want to discourage tourism. So perhaps it’s no wonder that Craig and various first district congressmen have not pushed for max cleanup. I suspect Minnick would think it quite important(would have to get by that nasty earmark thing though).

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Lake Coeur d’Alene is jokingly called Lake Coeur d’Lead. I have been told that fortunately, lead sediments that cover the bottom of this deep lake have not dissolved into the water due to its PH or some similar factor.

    The word is pronounced KOR duh lane

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    A fair portion of the majority party are like Otter or worse, and the more regressive are usually farmers and ranchers.

    One reason Idaho is the way it is, is the deliberately poor funding of education. This has been traditional in the many of the rural areas, but his year. It is general. Of the stimulus money, they manged to make sure little of it went to reduce cuts to education. In the meantime Otter is sitting on a “rainy day fund” of over $300-million, but he doesn’t think it is raining.

    The governor’s priority all year has been money for roads, one of the least effective ways to stimulate the economy when laying people off reduces consumer spending and tax collections.

    I think I can see where this is leading . . . when the recession is over the fund will go as a big tax cut to his mining and agribusiness friends.

  7. Virginia Avatar

    Ralph – thank you for explaining this to me. It does seem as though the issues concerning the environment and wildlife coming out of Idaho reek of ignorance and a lack of education.My son was married at Lake Coeur D’Alene resort last summer – a beautiful lake and resort but too posh and too pretentious for us. It is sad that such a beautiful lake is full of lead.

    Another question: is there any effort being made to scare these birds away such as netting or “scarecrow” birds that would frighten them and make them steer clear of this “killing field?”

    Virginia, I don’t know. Ralph Maughan

  8. Cobra Avatar

    Virginia, Ralph, etc.
    I live here and just fished the chain lakes on the cda river on sunday. We have some of the finest fishing anywhere. Our bass tournament weights will rival just about any other system. They are gradually cleaning up the areas and the wetlands. EPA has done just about all the yards in the area and they say in a couple of years it could be completed. Friends of mine that own an excavation company fixed one area of wetlands and many of the swans etc. are starting to use that area as I saw while driving by on my way to the lake. They are trying to fix a lot of areas by rip-rap along the river banks. From what I understand it’s better to leave the sediment in the lake alone because stirring it up would cause more harm than good. If you’ve been to CDA you know that it is a beautiful lake, but there’s a lot more to the system than just the city of CDA. If you’re ever up here again take the scenic route and drive down highway 3 and make the loop. In the spring many people come just to see all the different waterfowl. I did see a couple of dead swans on my little fishing trip and it’s really to bad because they are a beautiful bird. It is getting better though aand in time I think they’ll get it taken care of. Last time I heard of a water test being done on Lake CDA they said it was probably cleaner than most tap water.

  9. Cobra Avatar

    I forgot to tell you that no efforts are being made to scare the birds away. The wetland and lakes involved are just to big of an area to have any hopes of trying to scare them off. I might add also that they say 150 birds a year die and thats unfortunate but there are from what I’ve been told thousands that rest here on their way north. I’ve also been told that some of the swans could be picking up lead in Mexico, but, I’m sure their getting it here too.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I agree absolutely that the lake sediments should not be stirred up. As I said, the lead at the bottom of the lake has not entered (dissolved) in the water, although changes in the lake could make that happen.

    I’m glad the situation with the swans might be improving.

    I linked to the article because most people don’t know about the Silver Valley of northern Idaho and the sad history of poisoning not just swans, but the people too. Fortunately those days have been slowly disappearing for about 20 years now.

  11. Virginia Avatar

    Cobra – thank you very much for enlightening me on the situation of Lake CDA. I was certain the answer to my question would be that the area is too large to try to scare the birds away, but it does sound as though they are trying to make the situation better. It is a beautiful area, and we took our bicycles up there last summer and rode the scenic route around the lake. The bike path around the lake is really nice and it is a great way to view the lake/area. I assume the fish are safe to eat?

  12. Cobra Avatar

    They say the fish in the lakes may contain some metals so if you are going to eat fish thy say to keep it at so many meals a month. It depends also what fish you are considering for the table. Catfish and other bttom dwellers seem to retain more lead than the rest. Actually from what I’veheard from some of the people taking samples ,they say the fish in these lakes are probably no worse than any others from other places. I also heard today from one of my subs that the silver valley received a 25 million dollar grant to continue the clean up of he area. Chidrens lead levels are now under the national levels fom what I’ve been told. If you come back to ride the trail you should come up to the cda river road and ride from there down to the main lake. You’ll follow the river all the way and ride past all the wet lands and smaller lakes. Watch out for moose on that ride in the morning or evening though they can get kind of cranky. Other animals that have been seen on the trail are elk, deer, bear, cougars, eagles, otters, coyotes, foxes, and I know of a couple different people that have seen wolves. It’s an awesome ride and you never know what is around the next corner.

  13. Virginia Avatar

    Cobra – thank you for your information as I worry about eating anything from the water. Last night on PBS a two-hour documentary of interest about the pollution of our waters – lakes, rivers, streams, oceans – very alarming what we have been doing to our waterways. It is always scary when the “officials” start telling us to limit fish consumption to a certain amount in a certain time frame. It makes me sad that our national/global lack of concern about pollution has gotten us to this point. Happy Earth Day!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan