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A summer visit gives a glimpse of places that could be forever altered by 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.
Hikers explore lush cedar forests in the East Fork Bull River drainage of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
Hikers explore lush cedar forests in the East Fork Bull River drainage of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in July, 2016.
Map of Montanore Mine.

A plan to develop a massive silver and copper mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwest Montana threatens to transform one of the region’s wildest places for centuries to come.

The proposed Montanore Mine would operate for up to two decades, extracting 20,000 tons of ore each day from tunnels bored beneath the wilderness. The project would also require construction of miles of high-voltage electric transmission line, an impoundment to store up to 120 million tons of mining waste, a wastewater treatment plant, and the paving of roads and clearing of trees.

A 35-mile expanse of glaciated peaks, the Cabinet Mountains is an intact wild ecosystem.

Saint Paul Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, in July 2016.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
Saint Paul Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, in July 2016.

The region supports a diversity of native wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas, wolverines, moose, elk, deer, wolves, mountain lions and Canada lynx.

And the Cabinet Mountains provide one of the region’s last remaining strongholds for bull trout and grizzly bears—both of which are threatened with extinction and protected by the Endangered Species Act. The grizzly bear population in the Cabinet Mountains and adjacent Yaak valley is one of only five populations remaining in the lower-48 United States. It is essential for the species’ recovery.

If constructed, the Montanore Mine will drain water from the East Fork Bull River, the area’s most important bull trout spawning stream.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
East Fork Bull River. July, 2016. If constructed, the Montanore Mine will drain water from this river, the area’s most important bull trout spawning stream.
Flowing through the Cabinet Mountains are some of the purest waters left in the United States.
The mine would pollute Libby Creek with sediment and water that is too warm for bull trout, threatening bull trout.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
Libby Creek. July, 2016. The mine would pollute this creek with sediment and water that is too warm for bull trout.
East Fork Bull River provides critical habitat for bull trout.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
East Fork Bull River. July, 2016. The river provides critical habitat for bull trout.

Logging, mining and construction of dams and roads have already irreparably damaged bull trout habitat throughout the region. But the streams originating in the Cabinet Mountains still support some of the last viable populations of migratory bull trout in the region, essential to bringing back the species.

The process of extracting silver and copper will pollute bull trout habitat with sediment and with water that is too warm for bull trout, and make reaches of wilderness streams run dry.

The mining company’s own consultants predict the mine’s operations will diminish flows in overlying wilderness rivers and streams—for more than 1,000 years.
The clean, cold waters of East Fork Bull River provide a refuge for bull trout in a warming world.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
East Fork Bull River. July, 2016. The clean, cold waters of the river provide a refuge for bull trout in a warming world.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated that the Cabinet Mountains grizzly bear population had dropped as low as 21 bears, making it highly vulnerable to extinction.
Looking into the high peaks of the Cabinet Mountains from the western edge of the wilderness.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
Looking into the high peaks of the Cabinet Mountains from the western edge of the wilderness.
Because the Cabinet Mountains grizzly bear population already is hanging on by a thread, every bear counts.

The killing of even a single bear would increase the population's risk of extinction.

The Montanore Mine project would bring more than 800 people into the heart of grizzly bear habitat, greatly increasing the threat that grizzly bears will be killed due to poaching and conflicts with humans. In addition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that the Montanore Mine would displace up to three quarters of the adult female grizzly bears from their preferred habitat.

Overall, the agency found that the mine would cause substantial and irreparable damage to threatened species and their habitats.

Yet in March 2014, the Fish & Wildlife Service released biological opinions for bull trout and grizzly bears that gave the mine a green light, contrary to the agency’s own findings about the project’s effects. Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service also approved the mine in reliance on the flawed biological opinion.

The Montanore Mine site on the eastern edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in July, 2016.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
The Montanore Mine site on the eastern edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in July, 2016.
Earthjustice is taking the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service to court to enforce Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears and bull trout in the Cabinet Mountains.

Representing Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Montana to overturn the agencies’ conclusions that the mine would not endanger the survival or recovery of grizzly bears or bull trout.

“Every analysis of the Montanore Mine has shown that it will inflict irreversible damage on the Cabinet Mountains, ” says Katherine O’Brien, the lead attorney on the case. “Our state and federal agencies’ disregard of that evidence and insistence on pushing through the mine approval, whatever the cost, is irresponsible and unlawful.”

“If we are going to fulfill the promise offered by the Endangered Species Act, we cannot let our last, best places for threatened wildlife wind up on the rubble pile.”

Attorneys in the Northern Rockies office are filing legal briefs in the case this winter, and anticipate a hearing in federal court in the new year. 

What You Can Do

Help Save The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

Will you stand by Earthjustice and continue this fight to save the wild?

We’re taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service to court to challenge approval of the Montanore Mine, and we need your help.

Please make a tax-deductible gift today to help save this and other pristine places. Donate now

Map of Earthjustice offices.

The Northern Rockies Office is located in Bozeman, Montana.

Wild lands and wildlife that have been eliminated from much of the world still exist in the Northern Rockies region. Earthjustice's attorneys take on cases that focus on protecting large, intact ecosystems, and seek to build ecosystem resilience by reducing pressures caused by oil and gas development, logging, road building, and off-road vehicle traffic. Learn more.

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. (Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice) Photos for media use.
The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.