Officials have scheduled a hearing for the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).
The bill aims to ban new mining claims on 30,000 acres of public land in the Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the hearing will take place next Wednesday and be heard by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
We previously reported Tester had introduced the bill in response to activism from local conservationists and business owners against a pair of mining claims in the valley. Indeed, new claims on the land in question were previously barred by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for two years starting in November 2016. The area in question is adjacent to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and within view of the park.
According to the Chronicle, Tester released a statement announcing the hearing, arguing the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act is a sound measure in defense of the region’s economy:
“We need to keep the economy of this region strong for generations to come and this bill will ensure our kids and grandkids can experience the wonders of Montana’s outdoors at the doorstep of Yellowstone,” Tester said.
The hearing will come three months after Tester first introduced the bill, and two years after two gold mining companies announced exploratory drilling plans in the area. British Columbia-based Lucky Minerals Inc. has asked the state for permission to drill holes on private land in Emigrant Gulch, and Spokane, Washington-based Crevice Mining Group wants to look for gold on Crevice Mountain near Jardine. Neither company has yet obtained permission from the state to start drilling.
Locals and environmentalists have been fighting against the two mining companies since their plans were announced. They argue the two mines could harm wildlife and water quality and could harm the region’s tourism-based economy.
Neither of the Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation has expressed support for the bill. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who has said before that he wants to ensure the bill protects private property rights before supporting it, sits on the committee that will hear the bill.
The ban wouldn’t directly impact the mining companies hoping to drill there now. Existing mining claims wouldn’t be affected, and both companies have already staked claims on federal land. But the opponents of the two mining companies support the ban because they believe it would hamper the companies’ ability to expand.
The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, one of the groups fighting the mines, said in a statement that the hearing “represents a very important step forward.”
“We urge the committee to continue progress to permanently protect the doorstep to Yellowstone by advancing this legislation,” the group said.
We previously reported the YGBC had urged Senator Daines to support the bill; we also noted that Montana’s new U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte (R) had qualms about Tester’s bill, echoing Daines’ concern about private property. We also reported that then-U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), now Interior Secretary, had supported a ban on mining near Yellowstone National Park.
As mentioned, in addition to safeguarding the region’s ecological integrity, the bill would also safeguard the local economy, which generates nearly 700 million dollars a year.