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Native Sun News: Uranium mine threatens wild horse sanctuary

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Uranium mining adversary Dayton O. Hyde harbors mustangs at The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, located on the Cheyenne River between the proposed Dewey-Burdock ISL site and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Courtesy/Karla LaRive

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary founder Dayton O. Hyde joins film director Suzanne Mitchell in celebrating the October public release of her documentary feature “Running Wild.” Courtesy/“Running Wild”

Indie flicks highlight Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor


"Often I see Champagne Lady running wild and free across the prairie, able to leave her friends in the dust. In those moments it seems inconceivable that she would let me stroke her glistening neck and even scratch her ears. But when I come bumping and rattling across the prairie in my old pick-up truck and call her name, she leaves the rest of the herd behind to gallop to me. Putting her head though the open window of the truck she searches my jacket pocket for shards of grain..." – The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary Founder, Dayton O. Hyde – “Free to Run”

RAPID CITY – Champagne Lady is a mustang whose octogenarian caretaker Dayton O. Hyde rescued at his 11,000-acre Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. He submitted her visage as part of testimony against proposed nearby uranium mining during water permit hearings scheduled Oct. 7-11.

She is one of hundreds of equine movie stars in the videos “Free to Run” and “Imagine a Place”, sent to the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) Water Management Board for the hearings in Rapid City.

“The horses are my pardners in helping support this place,” Hyde says in one of the numerous videos recorded at the sanctuary. “As long as the tourists keep coming, we can keep running this place.”

However, environmental lawyer Tom Balanco notes in the video “We Are The Land”: “What threatens the wild horse sanctuary most right now is the increased threat of uranium mining.”

Powertech, (USA) Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian penny-stock holding company Powertech Uranium Corp., has been seeking state and federal permits since 2009 for what could become South Dakota’s first-ever ISR, or in-situ leach (ISL), uranium mining and yellow-cake processing plants. The Black Hills Horse Sanctuary, now with its name in the marquee lights, may well be its most famous adversary.

Although the water permit hearings board postponed proceedings until the week of Oct. 28 when snowbound interveners could not attend Oct. 7, the sanctuary’s arguments against uranium aired in the award-winning, new documentary feature "Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde", publically released Oct. 4 in theaters across the United States and via Video On Demand.

The proposed mining and milling would take place on 10,000 acres north of Edgemont in the Dewey-Burdock Project area of Custer and Fall River counties in southwestern South Dakota, located just minutes from the sanctuary.

The ISL process would entail building wells to inject solutions, dissolve uranium in the Inyan Kara Aquifer, pump them to the surface, process them into yellow cake for storage and shipment, purify the water, spread most of it on the surface or return it underground, and dispose of toxic wastes off-site.

Powertech has offered from 84 to 99 construction jobs for the project’s first year, with employment tapering off afterward in the 20-year aquifer-mining endeavor.

The company is asking the state for a permit for the rights to 8,500 gallons per minute of the Inyan Kara Aquifer, where the uranium ore is located, and another permit for 551 gallons per minute from the Madison Aquifer. It also is asking for a permit to discharge underground water on the surface.

After the DENR twice rejected Powertech’s application for underground injection wells, the company lobbied successfully to remove state oversight. Federal EPA and Nuclear Regulatory Permits for that and other aspects of the project are pending.

Petitions and interveners in recent contested permit hearings before the DENR Mining and Environment Board have claimed that the proposed uranium mining in South Dakota runs counter to everything from economic goals, Indian treaty rights, and cultural resource protection to medical knowledge, tourism interests, and water conservation.

Among the most captivating arguments is for the preservation of The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, located not far from the proposed mine and mill.

Powertech’s Dewey-Burdock Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck testified that he did not visit Hyde or the horse sanctuary in the process of developing the project proposal. He said they talked at an informational hearing the company held in Custer.

Hyde, congratulated by Lakota elders due to his reverence for the land, is credited not only with saving wild horses but also with keeping the Sandhills crane from extinction, according to a recent article at

He has written several books about his efforts to protect the environment.

Director Suzanne Mitchell’s independent film “Running Wild” explains why Hyde has chosen to make a stand to contest mining and water permits for the impending project at the headwaters of the Cheyenne River, which runs through the wild horse sanctuary.

Hyde founded the sanctuary in 1988 to rescue wild horses otherwise destined for slaughter. He established the non-profit Institute of Range and American Mustang IRAM, providing private land dedicated to a balanced ecosystem, hosting his friends’ annual Sundance, healing with equine therapy, and promoting research on wild-horse herd-management.

The business provides him no salary and no vacations – just the satisfaction of saving horses. It attracts tourist dollars year-round to Fall River County in southwestern South Dakota, preserves ancient rock art, and has served as a movie set for numerous productions – among them “Crazy Horse” and “Hidalgo”.

IRAM Program Manager Susan Watt, an intervener in the permit hearings, points out in video recordings that mineral rights don’t necessarily belong to land owners, as is the case on the wild horse ranch, where they are in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management.

“We learned that when the Black Hills was taken from the Native Americans, the federal government retained the mineral rights, and we as private landowners have no right to say yes or no,” she said. The drilling would be near a water well on the sanctuary land, she complains.

“You cannot inject water down through the aquifer and pump it out again and pump it back with residues into the uranium deposits and not pollute everybody’s water,” Hyde argues.

Powertech President Richard F. Clement Jr. sustains in written testimony to the Water Management Board that “impacts associated with alterations of ore-body aquifer chemistry would be small”, because federal rules require restoration.

Yet surface water concerns also goad Hyde. “A lot of us live along the Cheyenne and we better be worried about what’ s going to happen to our cattle and where our kids are going to go skinny dipping,” Hyde adds. “It’s going to affect an awful lot of people in the Black Hills and on the prairie,” he says.

Hollenbeck told Native Sun News he has no qualms about his children’s exposure to radiation when they swim in the Cheyenne River. He operates a certified organic livestock operation at its headwaters.

“Running Wild” opening night drew national attention to the local struggle over natural resource usage as the movie played on the big screen in New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas and points in between.

Reviewer Anita Gates of the New York Times called it “quietly grand” and lauded cinematographer Mauro Brattoli’s “exquisite shots of the horses running free.”

The production has earned its way into film festivals across the land, winning Best Documentary Feature at the Black Hills Film Festival and Best Feature Film at the Prescott Film Festival.

To date, it has been admitted as an official selection at the 2013 Slam Dance, Cinequest, Palm Beach, Sedona, and Cinema Falls indie fests.

Barbara Kopple, Robert Johnson, and Alejandro Perez are the executive producers.

(Contact Talli Nauman NSN Health and Environment editor at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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