Interior secretary urges mining ban near Yellowstone

The snowcapped Cabinet Mountains outside Libby, Mont., are emblematic of the state’s wilderness areas. A federal effort is pending to block new gold mining claims near parklands.
The snowcapped Cabinet Mountains outside Libby, Mont., are emblematic of the state’s wilderness areas. A federal effort is pending to block new gold mining claims near parklands.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press/File

BILLINGS, Mont. — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to speed up a proposal to block new gold mining claims on forested public lands in Montana near Yellowstone National Park and will consider blocking other types of mining, agency officials said.

Federal officials are undergoing a two-year review of mining on more than 30,000 acres among the towering peaks of the Absaroka Mountains just north of the park.

The review was launched last year by Zinke’s predecessor, Sally Jewell, in response to local concerns that two proposed gold mines could profoundly alter the character of a region heavily dependent on hikers, hunters, and tourists.


Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said Monday that Zinke wants to move forward as quickly as possible with a proposed 20-year withdrawal of future mining claims in the area north of the park, known as Paradise Valley.

The review of that withdrawal was to be completed by the Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management by November 2018.

Zinke had voiced support for the withdrawal effort as Montana’s sole member of the House but had not publicly addressed the issue since joining the Trump administration.

‘‘He is fully in the corner of protecting the Paradise Valley and is putting forward Interior Department assets to support the US Forest Service in that mission,’’ Swift said.‘‘Some places are too precious to mine.’’

Mining opponents have argued the proposed gold mines would industrialize wild areas populated by grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and other wildlife and harm streams that drain into the Yellowstone River, a popular trout fishing destination that draws anglers from around the world.

Montana Senator Steve Daines, a Republican, said in a statement released by his office that he appreciated Zinke’s effort to advance the mining ban.

The other two members of the state’s congressional delegation, Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican Representative Greg Gianforte, said a long-term solution was needed.


Zinke also has asked his staff to expand the agency’s review to include oil and gas, coal, and phosphate, according to Aug. 23 letter from Zinke to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service.

Among those minerals, only phosphate is found in the region in volumes that could support mining, according to studies by the US Geological Survey.

A Canadian company, Lucky Minerals, wants to explore for gold and other minerals north of Yellowstone near Emigrant. Another company, Spokane, Wash.-based Crevice Mining Group, is seeking permission to explore for gold near Jardine, just over Yellowstone’s northern boundary.

Jewell ordered a two-year prohibition on new mining claims last year that would not explicitly block the pending exploration proposals, both of which involve private lands.

Yet a withdrawal could make it more difficult to pursue large-scale mining by limiting the ability of the two companies to expand their operations in the future.