In a major victory for grizzly bears, bull trout and the people of northwest Montana, a federal district court has rejected a federal wildlife agency’s approval of a massive industrial mining operation on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overlooked serious concerns that the proposed Rock Creek Mine would drive grizzly bears and bull trout in the region extinct.
The proposed mining operation would have removed 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore per day from under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, seven days a week, for 35 years. The resulting loss of more than 7,000 acres of habitat would be devastating to the 15 or fewer grizzly bears that survive in the Cabinet Mountains. In the ruling, the court noted evidence that the area’s tiny grizzly bear population appears to be declining and concluded, “given the clear possibility that bears are at least not increasing, contemplating the loss of additional bears related to the mine is not rational.”
The mine also would have dumped up to three million gallons of waste water each day into the Clark Fork River, and threatened to destroy the bull trout population in Rock Creek, a tributary of the Clark Fork. The court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service had written off the Rock Creek population without properly considering the full range of threats facing the bull trout species.
The proposed Rock Creek Mine faced vehement opposition from a coalition of local, regional and national conservation groups, along with local business representatives, public officials and ordinary citizens. The mining project gained nationwide attention last year when Tiffany & Co., one of the world’s foremost jewelry retailers, published a full-page letter in the Washington Post opposing it, stating, “opponents fears are justified.” Nevertheless, federal and state officials approved the mine, and mine operator Revett Silver Company planned to break ground at the site this July.
Today local opponents of the mine breathed a sigh of relief: “People want to live in this corner of Montana because of our spectacular wilderness,” said Kathi Slora of Noxon, Montana. “Putting a huge mine on the edge of our wilderness would destroy it.”
“I think this ruling is an important step in recognizing the uniqueness of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness,” added Peter Lupsha of Trout Creek, Montana. “We know there are bull trout in Rock Creek and grizzly bears in Rock Creek Meadows, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored this and glossed over our concerns.”
The court ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the non-profit, public-interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Rock Creek Alliance, Cabinet Resource Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Council of Trout Unlimited, Pacific Rivers Council, EARTHWORKS/Mineral Policy Center, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies.