Conservation groups today petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a new look at the harmful effects that the proposed Rock Creek Mine would inflict on imperiled bull trout and grizzly bears in light of recently disclosed information revealing threats to these species that the agency has never considered.
The Rock Creek Mine proposed by Revett Minerals (NYSE MKT: RVM) would extract 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore every day for up to 35 years, affecting over 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat in and adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in northwest Montana. When it analyzed the mine’s effects on protected species in 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service assumed that the mine would not reduce flows in streams that are critical to bull trout and relied on promised mitigation measures to conclude that the mine will not jeopardize bull trout and grizzly bear populations in the Cabinet Mountains.
Since then, federal and state agencies have developed new data that reveal threats to these species that the Service has not considered. As the conservation groups’ petition demonstrates, the Rock Creek Mine will reduce flows in Rock Creek and the East Fork of the Bull River, which are vital to bull trout survival. The petition also documents that strategies the Service believed would protect the vulnerable grizzly bear population from increased risks of poaching and lethal conflict with humans have not succeeded in preventing the killing of grizzly bears over the past eight years, despite the fact that mining activities have not even commenced. In 2014, the Service estimated that only 21 grizzlies remain in the Cabinet Mountains, and transplanting bears from other regions is the only thing that has prevented outright extirpation of grizzlies from the ecosystem.
The petition submitted by Earthjustice on behalf of Earthworks, the Rock Creek Alliance, and the Idaho Council of Trout Unlimited calls for a new Endangered Species Act review to ensure that the proposed copper and silver mine will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of protected bull trout and grizzly bear populations.
“Bull trout and grizzly bears are hanging on by a thread in the Cabinet Mountains,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “New information reveals that the Rock Creek Mine will dewater bull trout streams and that the mine’s plan for avoiding grizzly bear mortalities is unlikely to work. The Endangered Species Act demands scrutiny of the proposed mine to ensure that it does not push these populations beyond the point of no return.”
“Montana’s largest native trout deserve a fighting chance at recovery,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. “If bull trout populations in Rock Creek and the East Fork of the Bull River are harmed, it would be a setback to recovery efforts in the lower Clark Fork watershed.”
“Grizzly bears and bull trout are not only symbolic of our natural heritage here in Montana, but they also are barometers of the health of our ecosystem,” said Mary Costello of the Rock Creek Alliance. “Only by protecting their habitat from the harm the mine would cause can we ensure that our own communities will have abundant clean water and unspoiled public lands.”
“Now more than before there is a greater need to protect bull trout and Western cutthroat habitat. With changing climate conditions, uncertain water supply and loss of habitat in lower Clark Fork River and Rock Creek watersheds there is a definite need for a new Endangered Species Act review,” says Chris Jones, president of the Idaho Council of Trout Unlimited.
Under Endangered Species Act regulations, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to undertake a new environmental analysis when information reveals threats to protected species that were not previously considered. Although Revett has closed its nearby Troy copper mine due to declining copper prices, it has continued to pursue permitting of the proposed Rock Creek Mine. Because development of the Rock Creek Mine could begin this spring, the conservation groups urge prompt action by the Service.
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