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Rock Creek Mine on Hold, for Now

A tiny population of grizzly bears, numbering as few as eleven, hangs by the thinnest thread in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana. A not-much-more-numerous population of protected bull trout occupies the same territory. Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion to the effect that a huge copper and silver mine proposed for the region would not pose an unacceptable risk to the two species.

Staff attorney Tim Preso, on behalf of the Rock Creek Alliance, Cabinet Resource Group, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Mineral Policy Center, Pacific Rivers Council, and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, challenged the opinion in court, and unearthed documents that demonstrated just how political the process had been. To wit, the regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote this to his staff, "this time we will meet the schedule. . . .I won't go back to the Governor again with a missed deadline." The result was a rushed biological opinion that failed to meet the basic requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

In March 2005, a federal district court rejected the opinion, ruling that the Fish and Wildlife Service overlooked serious concerns that the proposed Rock Creek Mine would drive grizzly bears and bull trout in the region extinct.

Maps showing the change in grizzly habitat in the 19th and 20th centuries are listed to the right.