MTPR

Mine Exploration At Yellowstone's 'Northern Backdoor' Worries Conservationists

Jul 14, 2015

Caroline Byrd describes south-central Montana's scenic Emigrant Gulch in the Paradise Valley as Yellowstone National Park's "northern backdoor".

"It's got wildlife. It's got water. It's got scenic beauty and it's got real ecological importance for keeping the whole place knit together," says Byrd.

Byrd, the executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says that's no place for a mine.

"This is Paradise Valley. This is Chico Hot Springs. This is not a place to develop gold. This is a place that is gold unto itself."

"This is Paradise Valley. This is Chico Hot Springs. This is not a place to develop gold. This is a place that is gold unto itself."

The GYC and other conservation groups are concerned about a Canadian company's request to explore for gold, copper and molybdenum in Emigrant Gulch on the Custer Gallatin National Forest. The state of Montana is evaluating Lucky Minerals' request to do the same on nearby private land.

"It's worth a shot to take a look at what's in there. We're just starting out, so we have no idea really what's there," says Shaun Dykes, vice president of Lucky Minerals.

"The way I look at it, if you take a picture of Emigrant Creek today I don't think that's going to change. So, just using existing roads, with our drills, one or two pickup trucks going in there every day and that's it," Dykes says.

"The way I look at it, if you take a picture of Emigrant Creek today I don't think that's going to change. So, just using existing roads, with our drills, one or two pickup trucks going in there every day and that's it."

The GYC's Caroline Byrd doesn't find that comforting.

"'Just exploration' is the crack in the door. The first step in and of itself involves a fair amount of disturbance; really large trucks and a lot of activity to drill these bore holes. You don't put that kind of effort into exploration offhand. You're looking to build an asset."

Byrd says there's no doubt there's gold in the area and lots of it, but instead of being conveniently concentrated in a rich vein, that gold is widely dispersed.

Mining opponents say massive amounts of ore would have to be extracted. They fear Lucky Minerals would have to resort to an open pit mine to get enough ore to make a profitable return on its investment.

Lucky Minerals’ Shaun Dykes says an open pit mine is not in the cards.

"If you look at the Butte mine, that's on the side of the hill and basically wide open," says Dykes. "The Emigrant Valley is very narrow. It's got steep mountains on either side. It's basically impossible to even think about putting an open pit in there."

Besides, Dykes adds open pit mines are extremely difficult to permit in Montana.

"I call it the backlash against the previous mining history of Montana with these large scale open pits and the lack of environmental controls on them. It's just not practical," according to Dykes.

Dykes says assuming there's even reason to pursue a mine in the area, it would most likely be an underground operation. Again though, he says that conversation is entirely premature.

The company needs approval from both the Custer Gallatin National Forest and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to begin even the exploration phase.

The Forest Service is considering a categorical exclusion request from Lucky. DEQ is studying a "checklist environmental assessment" request.

Environmentalists are calling on the agencies to use more stringent standards to evaluate the requests. They also want an expanded public comment period. Forest Service and DEQ representatives say they're considering expanding that public comment process.

If Lucky Minerals' current plan is approved, exploratory drilling could start next year.