Two-year pause on new gold mine exploration on more than 30,000 acres of public lands near Yellowstone.
Background: U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a two-year time-out on gold exploration that could lead to two large-scale gold mines bordering Yellowstone National Park. Secretary Jewell made the announcement with USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie while visiting Yellowstone National Park and surrounding gateway communities. Two foreign-backed mining companies are trying to develop two gold mines in Montana’s Park County, the year-round gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The withdrawal proposal is a major step towards addressing the concerns raised by the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, as well as local and national conservation organizations.
The two-year pause on new gold mine exploration on nearly 30,000 acres of public land in question occurred through a proposed public land mineral withdrawal and does not impact mining activities on private lands. The time-out will ensure that no new mining activity takes place on public lands while the Department of Interior and Forest Service undertake a public process to study the lands and connected waterways, to determine whether to extend protection for these lands on Yellowstone’s doorstep. The public process allows consideration for protection of the area for up to 20 years. Calls for the withdrawal raised concerns about the effect of the mines on important wildlife habitat, the potential for acid runoff to degrade the Yellowstone River’s water quality and world-famous fishery, and harm to the region’s thriving economy.
More than 250 local business leaders formed the non-partisan Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition and in June asked for a time-out on gold mining here, citing risks to their livelihoods and to the strong regional economy.
The federal agencies’ decision today provides a short-term solution to the issue of gold exploration on Yellowstone’s northern boundary, and provides the opportunity for the development of a long-term, Montana-made solution.
The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, along with conservation organizations, is urging the Montana Congressional delegation to introduce bipartisan legislation in the new Congress. Legislation could enact a permanent mineral withdrawal on these public lands while protecting private property rights, similar to the bipartisan North Fork Watershed Protection Act, sponsored by Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines in 2013.
If mine development is allowed to proceed, one of the proposed mines would be built within eyesight of Yellowstone’ famous Roosevelt Arch. The other is proposed just north of the park, above the historic Chico Hot Springs Resort.
Statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) “National Parks Conservation Association commends Secretaries Jewell and Vilsack for hitting the pause button on industrial scale gold mining at Yellowstone’s doorstep. Today’s decision buys the community and the Congressional delegation time to discuss and consider the prospect of a longer-term solution. More than 30,000 NPCA supporters called for this pause, echoing the work led by the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition. These proposed mines would harm Yellowstone resources, wildlife, visitor experience and adjacent communities. The threat of mining on the doorstep of Yellowstone is a stark reminder that we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect Yellowstone, and so many other national parks across the country. We call for a full, science-backed review of the resources at stake on these lands, and the permanent protection of this priceless landscape.”
Statement by Marne Hayes, Business for Montana’s Outdoors “We commend the hard work and dedication of all involved in the effort to permanently protect Montana’s Yellowstone Gateway communities. There is no doubt that these landscapes serve our businesses, both in direct effect to industry and as a draw to a way of life in Montana. The bottom line is that the border to Yellowstone National Park is no place for exploratory mining, and the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition has taken their message all the way to our decision makers in DC to ensure that a critical look be taken at the threat of mining in this pristine environment. We support the protection of our natural assets, and thank the US Forest Service for considering the voices of those who live and work here.”
Statement by Jenny Harbine, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice “This decision represents an important step forward in protecting the landscapes on Yellowstone’s doorstep. These landscapes offer more than a magnificent view. They form some of the last refuges for our nation’s most iconic symbols of wildness—grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverines. But it is important to recognize that today’s decision begins the process of protecting these lands; it doesn’t finish it. There is more work to be done and we intend to continue the fight to protect Yellowstone’s gateway until the threat from mining is permanently removed.”
Statement by Caroline Byrd, Executive Director, Greater Yellowstone Coalition “We’re pleased that the Forest Service is standing with Montana’s local businesses. These business owners understand what makes southwest Montana’s economy tick. Clean water, abundant wildlife, access to public lands, and beautiful vistas support dozens of industries and make it easy to attract first-rate talent. Replace these things with constant truck traffic, polluted rivers, and scarred mountain slopes and you have a recipe for disaster. Thank you, Forest Service, for listening to the voices of Montanans. We’re looking forward to working with these business owners, our Yellowstone gateway towns, and with our Montana delegation to permanently protect these public lands from the threat of gold mines. Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.”
Statement by Michelle Uberuaga, Executive Director, Park County Environmental Council “Our community asked for protection of our public lands from mining and we are proud of the hard work and commitment from so many people, especially the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, to get to this point. Mining in Yellowstone’s gateway not only threatens our jobs and our quality of life, if developed, these mines would industrialize critical habitat for grizzly bears, cutoff migratory corridors for elk, and risk poisoning the Yellowstone River with acid runoff. We’re thankful that the Forest Service recognizes these risks and has put a pause button on mining. Now we have to work together to make it permanent.”
About National Parks Conservation Association Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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