The U.S. Forest Service has announced it wants to ban new mining claims on land just north of Yellowstone National Park for 20 years.
The land in question, comprising 30,370 acres adjacent to Montana’s Paradise Valley, is close to where two companies are pursuing plans to drill for gold.
Forest Service staff, along with other Interior officials, have been analyzing the effect gold mining would have on this pocket of land since 2016, when the Interior instituted a two-year ban on new claims.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Service released its environmental assessment today, March 29, 2018. In a separate statement, the Service said the proposed 20-year withdrawal would protect “the scenic integrity, important wildlife corridors and high quality recreation areas.”
Earlier this week, we reported the release of this EA had been announced in early March. U.S. Forest Service staff said the announcement was premature, citing the need for upper-level Interior and Agriculture staff to evaluate the report.
With the release of this report, the Service is also seeking public comment on whether to institute a 20-year mining ban. You can submit comments here.
The comment period will stay open from now until April 29, 2018. From the Chronicle:
Locals and environmentalists began calling for the ban in 2016. They hope it will prevent two mining companies from developing large-scale projects in the area. They think industrial mining could harm the environment and the region’s tourism-based economy.
The two mining companies, Lucky Minerals and Crevice Mining Group, have said they disagree with the opposition. They believe their operations would be safe and that they could provide economic opportunity for residents of Park County.
Although Lucky Minerals and Crevice’s claims are on private land, mining opponents contend that both companies would need to expand in order to make their operations feasible.
To that end, mining opponents have pushed for a permanent withdrawal, arguing that a 20-year mining ban is too soft and could lead to another showdown once that withdrawal lapses.
The current mineral withdrawal is slated to end in November 2018.
Montana’s congressional delegation has remained split on the matter. U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D) and U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte (R) have both introduced legislation to permanently withdraw the land in question. At this time, neither bill has passed its respective chamber. U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R) has declined to endorse either Tester or Gianforte’s legislation, although he has said he agrees with their basic premise.
Gianforte’s predecessor Ryan Zinke, who currently serves as Interior Secretary, has also voiced support for a mining ban. Indeed, Zinke sought to expedite the release of the report and expand it to include information on how other mining activities (e.g. oil, gas, phosphates) would affect the region.
Zinke is expected to make an announcement on the mining ban this fall, following public comment and internal review.