U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has introduced legislation to permanently ban mining on 30,000 acres of land in the Paradise Valley outside Yellowstone National Park.
The bill, entitled the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, would permanently withdraw federal mineral rights within the Custer Gallatin National Forest near Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and Yellowstone. Last fall, the Interior Department placed a two-year prohibition on mining claims in that parcel, after hearing testimony from locals and area businesses.
According to the Billings Gazette, the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act would also eliminate “the ability for proposed mines to expand on to unclaimed public land.”
Tester previously penned a letter throwing his support behind any initiative to prevent gold mining adjacent to Yellowstone, citing the need for a healthy environment. He also noted how tourism drives the local economy in the region. From the Gazette:
The Senator said he had forwarded the information about his proposal to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who has never taken a stance on the mining issue pro or con. Tester said he had not heard back from Daines about whether he would support the legislation and was giving his colleague space.
“If we can talk about this from an economic standpoint I think he’ll come along,” Tester said.
To that end, Tester stressed Yellowstone National Park visitors spent an average of $196 million in Park County in 2014 that helped create and sustain nearly 3,000 jobs. Statewide the outdoor economy supports 64,000 jobs and generates nearly $6 billion for the economy, he said.
The Montana Department of Environment Quality recommended in December that Lucky Minerals be given an exploration license to obtain core samples from up to 46 drill holes on private land in the Absaroka Mountains in Park County, about 12 miles southeast of Emigrant. The total project disturbance area would be just under 5 acres. The company wants to gauge the area’s copper, gold, silver and molybdenum deposits.
A second company, Crevice Mining Group, is seeking permission to explore for gold on 14 acres of private property near Jardine, just north of Yellowstone Park. The Crevice project has been on hold since the DEQ issued a letter of deficiency last summer asking for more information on the request to drill.
The fact that the mining companies can still mine private lands does not distract from the legislation, Tester said. Big mining projects would need a lot of land to expand since the private parcels are relatively small and surrounded by federal lands. The legislation will take away the incentive to mine in the region, he added, in effect stopping large mining close to the Paradise Valley.
The proposed legislation drew a flurry of praise from conservation groups and local business owners who had lobbied for federal protection. Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort – which would have mining traffic through its parking lot if Lucky Minerals moves ahead – thanked Tester for taking action.
“We are so thankful for this move,” Davis said, adding that his 170 employees and their families were excited about the announcement.
“We are advocates of property rights,” said Tracy Raich, owner of Raich Montana Properties in Livingston. “We are not anti-mining. We understand that there are places to mine, but the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park isn’t one of them. The spectacular public lands, agricultural heritage, clean rivers and streams surrounding this area give the region a competitive advantage. The lifeblood of our economy is tied to these high-quality natural resources.”
Tester added he believes Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who as Montana’s lone congressman spoke out against mining near Yellowstone, will throw his weight behind the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, should it reach President Trump’s desk.
Tester also says he will broach companion legislation with whoever assumes Zinke’s seat following the May 25 special election. Two candidates in the race, Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist, have each spoken out against mining in Paradise Valley.