Montana Public Radio

Interior Secretary Extends Mining Ban North Of Yellowstone Park

Oct 8, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order yesterday extending an Obama administration ban on new mining in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park by 20 years.

Zinke stood with this back to the Absarkoa Mountain Range, the peaks half hidden in clouds hanging low over the Paradise Valley, as he said some places should not be mined, even though he describes himself as “a pro-mining guy”.

“The mountain behind us is special. It’s special to the community. It’s special to Montana. And it’s special to our nation," Zinke said.  "There’s places to mine and place not to mine.”

Zinke announced the mining ban for the area just north of the country’s first national park at a luxury resort lodge with stunning views of the mountain range and valley. He was joined by business owners and local activists.

While touting the mining ban as a win for bi-paristion collaboration, Zinke also claimed it as a conservation victory for the Trump administration, using a hint of president’s re-election slogan.

“It should be encouraging to us all that in this politically divided world that public lands is not a Republican or Democrat issue," Zinke said. "And some things are more important than politics. So today is an example of a promise made, promise kept.”

That two year ban on mining here, put in place by President Obama’s last Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in 2016 was set to expire in November.

The continuation of it on 30,000 acres of mostly National Forest land was praised by Joe Josephson with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which has long supported and advocated block mining in the Paradise Valley.

“The values at stake here, in terms of the migration corridors and the grizzly bear habitat. And the recreational access, and the way that this river drives the economy of this valley and of Yellowstone National Park," Josephson said. "It’s the right thing to do."

The order signed yesterday does not prevent ongoing or future mining projects moving forward on already existing claims. It also doesn’t stop mining projects on private land. Zinke says this means there is no path forward for the two companies who have proposed mining projects here.

“No it doesn’t," President and CEO of Lucky Minerals John Mears said. "And he should really talk to me about that.”

Lucky Minerals, a Canadian company,  holds a permit to search for gold, silver and other minerals in the area.

Mears stood leaning against his truck outside the resort property where Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the announcement about banning new mining projects on public land. The press event was not open to the public.

Next to Mears, propped up against the trunk, a large white sign read 'Sec. Zinke. I am the CEO of Lucky Inc. Why won’t you meet me?'

Mears says Interior’s order means his company can’t claim any new land, but be says the company plans exploratory drilling on the land it does have claim to next summer.

“Anyone can say any place is too important to mine," Mears said. "Most people aren’t going to want a mine in their backyard, I get that. But it’s not up to us to decide where the minerals are. We just have to go there.”

Mears says this block on mining on public land is a departure from what’s he’s heard from the Trump administration on their attitude toward mining and land use.

Interior Secretary Zinke says the Trump administration selected this area to pull mining options from public land because there is consensus from the people in Paradise Valley, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, and the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation.

Mears says he’s spoken to people in the valley who support a mine and the potential high paying jobs that come with it.

All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation support legislation moving through Congress that would make the 20-year ban permanent.

If that happens, and it blocks Lucky Minerals from moving forward with its project, John Mears says the company is willing to take the federal government to court.