Skip to main content

Defending the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness from Industrialized Mining

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 Cabinet Mountains Wilderness boasts some of the purest waters in the lower-48 United States and harbors important populations of threatened bull trout and grizzly bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

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.

The Rock Creek and Montanore mine projects proposed by Coeur D’Alene-based Hecla Mining Company threaten to inflict serious, irreversible impacts on one of the nation’s original wilderness areas and the invaluable water and wildlife resources found there. The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, where the mines would be located, boasts some of the purest waters in the lower-48 United States and harbors important populations of threatened bull trout and grizzly bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

If constructed, the Rock Creek and Montanore mines are predicted to drain water from wilderness streams, reducing flows for more than 1,000 years; pollute the Clark Fork River and tributaries that provide critical habitat for bull trout; and threaten higher levels of human-caused mortality for the precariously small population of grizzly bears that is struggling to maintain a foothold in the Cabinet Mountains. The Montanore mine alone would generate up to 120 million tons of mining waste, which would be stored in perpetuity on the doorstep of the wilderness.

Case ID

2911, 3057, 3510

Case Updates

October 20, 2017 | Letter

Earthjustice Letter to Montana Department of Environmental Quality

This is a request for enforcement under the Metal Mine Reclamation Act (“MMRA”), MCA §§ 82-4-331(3), 82-4-335(9), and 82-4-360(1), submitted on behalf of Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, Clark Fork Coalition, Rock Creek Alliance, and Save Our Cabinets (collectively, the “Conservation Organizations”). The cited MMRA provisions generally prohibit the former principals of companies that fail to complete required mine reclamation from receiving a hard rock exploration license or operating permit and conducting exploration or mining activities in Montana. As explained more fully below, these provisions apply to and prohibit Hecla Mining Company (“Hecla”) from developing the Rock Creek and Montanore mine projects because Hecla President, Chief Executive Officer, and Director Phillips S. Baker, Jr. is a former principal officer of Pegasus Gold Incorporated and its subsidiaries Pegasus Gold Corporation, Zortman Mining Incorporated, Pegasus Gold Montana Mining Incorporated, and Beal Mountain Mining Incorporated. The Pegasus entities failed to complete required reclamation of, at a minimum, the Zortman-Landusky and Basin Creek mines, resulting in DEQ’s receipt of bond funds to carry out necessary reclamation in their stead.

August 15, 2017 | Legal Document

Montanore Mine Water Quality

This case challenges the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of a water pollution discharge permit for the Montanore Mine, a massive copper and silver mining project proposed by the Montanore Minerals Corp. (“MMC”) in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana. The proposed mine would tunnel beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area of the Kootenai National Forest, which boasts some of the purest waters in the lower-48 and harbors vital populations of bull trout—a threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act—and other native fish.