Skip to main content

Protecting Threatened Bull Trout, Grizzly Bears from Montanore Mine in Montana

Montana’s cold, clean streams contain some of the last prime habitat in the United States for threatened bull trout, whose historic range has shrunk by half.

Montana’s cold, clean streams contain some of the last prime habitat in the United States for threatened bull trout, whose historic range has shrunk by half.

Joel Sartore / National Geographic Stock / U.S. FWS

What's at Stake

The proposed mine site and surrounding public lands offer some of the last remaining undeveloped habitat for critical populations of bull trout and grizzly bears that are hanging on by a thread because of habitat destruction, pollution, and human-caused mortality across their range.

Every bear counts in the small Cabinet Mountains population.

Overview

The Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana offer one of the last remaining strongholds for bull trout and grizzly bears—species that are threatened with extinction across their range.

Location of Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
The proposed Montanore Mine is located in northwestern Montana.

Even in the Cabinet Mountains, bull trout already face a high risk of extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation, competition from invasive species, and population declines that have left small remnant populations that are highly vulnerable to random extirpation. Grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains also have suffered substantial losses of habitat and declining numbers, leaving the population so small that extirpation is a very real risk. Every bear counts in this small population, particularly females, whose survival is critical to sustain and grow the population.

Against this backdrop of severely diminished populations, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the proposed Montanore Mine would cause substantial and irreparable damage to bull trout, grizzly bears, and their habitat. The Service found that the mine would permanently dewater streams on which bull trout depend, increase stream temperatures to levels that are intolerable for bull trout, pollute bull trout habitat with harmful sediment, and promote the intrusion of non-native fish that kill or compete with bull trout. Regarding grizzly bears, the Service found that the Montanore Mine would displace up to seventy-five percent of adult female grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains from their preferred habitat, worsen habitat fragmentation, and bring more than 800 new people into the heart of grizzly bear habitat, increasing greatly the likelihood that grizzly bears will be killed due to poaching and conflicts with humans.

But at the end of the day, the Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed these threats to bull trout and grizzly bears and issued a biological opinion contrary to its own findings. The Service asserted that the Montanore Mine’s effects on bull trout are too localized to matter and will not threaten the species’ persistence within the Columbia River Basin. Yet the Service’s most recent assessment reveals that the majority of bull trout populations across the Columbia River Basin are declining, and the Service cited no evidence that populations beyond the reach of the Montanore Mine’s harmful effects will be strong enough to sustain the species.

Regarding grizzly bears, the Service concluded that constructing the Montanore Mine would actually benefit the species because the mining company has promised to fund public education and other measures to reduce conflicts between bears and humans in the Cabinet Mountains region. While conflict-reduction programs have been a key component of grizzly bear recovery efforts, the Service’s conclusion that such measures are capable of neutralizing the risks posed by the mine and associated influx of eight-hundred-plus persons into grizzly country lacks any evidentiary support and conflicts with the Service’s own data.

Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks, and Defenders of Wildlife, represented by Earthjustice, have filed suit to protect bull trout and grizzly bears from the proposed Montanore Mine. The lawsuit challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that the proposed Montanore copper and silver mine would not jeopardize the survival or recovery of bull trout and grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Montanore Mine, proposed by Mines Management, Inc. (AMEX: MGN), would transform the remote landscape in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana into a large-scale industrial operation involving the mining and processing of up to 20,000 tons of ore every day for up to 20 years. The site of the proposed mine lies within and adjacent to a federally-protected wilderness that currently contains pristine forests, glaciated peaks, and rivers and streams that are among the purest waters in the continental United States. The proposed mine site and surrounding public lands offer some of the last remaining undeveloped habitat for critical populations of bull trout and grizzly bears that are hanging on by a thread because of habitat destruction, pollution, and human-caused mortality across their range.

Case ID

2911

Case Updates

May 31, 2017 | Legal Document

Montanore Mine Court Decision and Order

The plaintiffs in this consolidated action seek review under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, of federal agency actions and the associated planning documents relating to the approval of a proposed mining operation in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness area in the Kootenai National Forest in northwestern Montana.

May 31, 2017 | Legal Document

Montanore Mine Cabinet ESA Order

For the reasons set forth below, the Forest Service motion for summary judgment on Count II is granted. On all other claims Plaintiffs prevail. The Project will be remanded to the agencies for consideration in light of this Order and Opinion. BACKGROUND I. The

September 7, 2016 | Feature

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness & The Montanore Mine

A proposal to mine into the heart of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness threatens grizzly bears, bull trout, and a treasured wild landscape. A summer visit gives a glimpse of places that could be forever altered by the Montanore Mine.