By Kristine Galloway
CHEYENNE – Mining is one of Wyoming’s founding industries, and is historically rooted in the state’s culture and economy.
December 6 was National Miner’s Day 2020. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is taking the opportunity to honor our Wyoming miners and acknowledge the continued impact of Wyoming’s mining history on DEQ’s work.
WMA Peck Community Achievement Award
Duston Howe, a mechanic/welder at the Wyodak Mine in Gillette is the recipient of the 2020 Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) Peck Community Achievement Award.
The WMA presents the Peck Community Achievement Award annually to a Wyoming mine employee who shows “outstanding voluntary community service.” The award also honors its namesake Peck family’s efforts to improve the state and their community, as well as the family’s commitment to the Wyoming mining community.
Howe’s coworkers at Wyodak Mine nominated him for the award. WMA explained that Howe is recognized for, “a variety of work and community related reasons, including extra effort at work, maintaining a safe and clean work area, working effectively and positively with coworkers, always striving to improve efficiencies, and volunteering for those extra assignments and projects.”
Howe also commits himself to the Gillette community. He regularly coaches wrestling, and he previously coached girls’ softball and helped with junior football and little league baseball.
“I got into coaching through my kids, and I see what a positive impact it has on some kids that don’t necessarily have parents that can step in and help out,” Howe said. “It’s pretty neat to see a kid excited over even a small victory. Being able to share it with them is awesome.”
He has three kids, ages 14, 13 and 11.
Howe also builds sets for his local theater. He became involved in that through his daughter who joined the community theater.
“That was always a way I could spend time with her and help out the community,” Howe said.
The WMA established the Peck Community Achievement Award in 1983. The association posthumously named Wyoming Senator Roy Peck as the first recipient. Recent recipients who demonstrated commitment to improving their Wyoming communities include:
2019 – Michelle Butler, Cloud Peak Energy
2018 – Pat Gaffield, Cloud Peak Energy
2017 – Todd Jolovich, Wyodak Resources
2016 – Pat Baumann, Cloud Peak Energy
2015 – Tony Hiser, Peabody Energy, North Antelope Rochelle Mine
DEQ Abandoned Mine Land Division
DEQ’s Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Division manages the reclamation and safety of Wyoming’s mines abandoned before 1977 when legislation began requiring companies to reclaim their mines.
The AML team regularly works with archaeologists to protect the history of Wyoming’s mining industry while also ensuring the safety of archaeologists, historians and residents.
In 2020, the AML team completed work on the Powars II Paleoindian Archaeological Site in Sunrise. The site is the oldest known mining site in North America, believed to be more than 13,000 years old.
Dave Pendleton, program manager of DEQ’s AML program, said, “We stabilized the highwall to prevent subsidence and damaging of cultural resources.”
DEQ worked hand-in-hand with late archaeologist George Frison and archeologist George Zeimans to ensure all the work to stabilize that ancient mine site would support the integrity of the mining site for future study.
The AML team expects to finish safety and stabilization work next year at the Carissa Gold Mine in South Pass. The mine operated until 1949, and the Friends of South Pass worked to restore the property, making the Carissa the most complete former gold mine mill in the nation.
DEQ worked to stabilize the mine, improve safety of the structures and fill old nearby mine shafts.
Safety also is a priority regarding work to reclaim old uranium mines in the Gas Hills in Fremont County.
Pendleton said the former McIntosh and Day Loma uranium mines each had a 400-foot highwalls that were partially underwater and created a safety hazard. The AML team worked with contractors to remediate those highwall and close up the massive open mining pits.
Pendleton said, “We’re doing geomorphic reclamation that will mimic natural terrain, providing an additional 400 acres of drainage into a pond that supports aquatic habitat.”
In addition to geomorphic reclamation that supports the natural habitat, DEQ’s AML staff are working with other agencies to improve the growth of sagebrush across the West.
The sagebrush steppe is only about half the size it used to be, but it’s home to the sage grouse, a large bird native only to the steppe. The sage grouse was nearly listed as a threatened species several years ago because of the dwindling sagebrush steppe.
DEQ is working with the Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Department of Corrections and other agencies to work toward restoring the steppe through efforts to improve the growth of sagebrush in the West.