The public comment period on a potential mineral withdrawal within the Paradise Valley outside Yellowstone National Park ended Wednesday.
It’s not known how many comments were submitted, although advocates say they’ve solicited thousands. According to U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Marna Daley, speaking to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, officials in the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are still trying to “yard them all up,” acknowledging, in part, a large volume received:
“We received many comments,” Daley said, adding that more will probably be arriving. Because comments only had to be postmarked before the deadline, they could have been mailed on Wednesday.
Environmental groups who solicited comments from their members said they’d sent in thousands. In the run-up to the deadline, groups were gathering signatures on petitions, convincing people to sign postcards to be sent in and soliciting written comments. Several businesses also had postcards available for people to sign.
Beth Kampschorr, spokeswoman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which supports the withdrawal, told the Chronicle they’d sent in about 3,500 comments from their members and people around Bozeman, including about 500 postcards they’d handed out at different events. She also said an environmental group based in Missoula sent in thousands of comments as well.
Karrie Kahle, of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, said her group was getting signatures on postcards right up to the deadline and that some were mailed into the Forest Service and others were dropped off at local offices.
June 2016, we reported that the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition and environmental groups had asked the U.S. Forest Service to initiate an “administrative mineral withdrawal” on 31,400 acres of land east of Paradise Valley. The groups banded together after a pair of companies (British Columbia-based Lucky Minerals Inc. and Spokane, Washington-based Crevice Mining Group LLC) each asked Montana permission to perform exploratory drilling for gold in Emigrant Gulch and near Jardine, respectively.
Montana’s two U.S. Senators and lone U.S. Representative spoke out against mining north of Yellowstone. Indeed, Senator Jon Tester (D) penned a letter supporting the Coalition’s request.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality had given Lucky Minerals the tentative go-ahead to drill in October 2016, although the DEQ has to write a final environmental assessment before the company can begin. DEQ officials received over 250 comments on the project.
Crevice Mining Group, meanwhile, has had its mining application repeatedly rejected by the DEQ over concerns that it would use a “small miner’s exclusion permit” to bypass reclamation obligations intended for larger projects. We previously reported that Crevice’s application was “missing data on how the company will manage wastewater in the mine, and raised concerns regarding acid mine drainage and land disturbance.” Local opposition to the Crevice mine has been staunch.
November 2016, the Obama Administration announced it was placing a temporary ban on new mining claims on approximately 30,000 acres in the Paradise Valley. While the ban does not affect Lucky Minerals or Crevice’s claims, an extended or permanently ratified ban on mining could impact their claims’ viability. It would take an act of Congress to permanently withdraw mineral rights on the land.
According to the Chronicle, this public comment period will guide future action taken on a full environmental assessment. For the most part, Daley said, the comments will be used to gauge the public’s position, which will be factored into future decisions.