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Protecting Wildlife from the Rock Creek Mine

A bull trout in British Columbia’s Wigwam River drainage, the headwaters of the Kootenai River, known as the “crown jewel” of bull trout spawning areas.

A bull trout in British Columbia’s Wigwam River drainage, the headwaters of the Kootenai River, known as the “crown jewel” of bull trout spawning areas.

Joel Sartore / National Geographic & Wade Fredenberg / USFWS

What's at Stake

The mine's location is in a sensitive portion of grizzly bear habitat, and construction would add sediment to local waters, which would smother bull trout spawning areas.

Case Overview

The proposed Rock Creek Mine project in northwest Montana would be located adjacent to and literally under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in the Kootenai National Forest. The copper and silver mine's location is in a sensitive portion of grizzly bear habitat, and construction would add sediment to local waters, which would smother bull trout spawning areas.

Since 2001, the Fish & Wildlife Service has issued flawed biological opinions repeatedly, and Earthjustice has repeatedly challenged the approval for the mine.

In December 2007, the Fish & Wildlife Service once again gave the mining company approval to begin construction activities, based on a biological opinion that relies on mitigation measures that are not sufficient to protect the populations of grizzly bear. This biological opinion also permits extensive degradation of a portion of Rock Creek previously deemed critical habitat for bull trout. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually approved the biological opinion.

Since then, federal and state agencies have developed new data that reveal threats to these species that the Service has not considered, and in 2015 conservation groups petitioned the Service to take a new look.

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.

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.

Case ID

1739

Case Updates

March 3, 2008 | Legal Document

Rock Creek Mine Complaint (02/29/08)

Complaint in suit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of the Rock Creek Mine in northwest Montana.

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