Eleven conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, have notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they intend to file suit over the agency’s approval of the Rock Creek Mine, which would be located adjacent to and under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in northwest Montana. The conservation groups also plan to challenge a Forest Service permit for the mine that was issued based on the faulty recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The notice letter was sent on December 26, 2007.
The proposed mine threatens grizzly bears and bull trout in the region with extinction. Both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The mine would extract 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore per day for 35 years and would affect over 7,000 acres within the habitat of the tiny Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population. As mining, logging, and other human activities have eroded the bears’ habitat, the population has sharply declined. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as few as 30 bears might remain, a number that experts agree puts the bears on the verge of extinction.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion also acknowledges that the mine could eradicate bull trout in Rock Creek, one of the last bull trout strongholds in the lower Clark Fork River basin. The agency brushed aside these concerns and decided that the Rock Creek bull trout population could go extinct since there were bull trout elsewhere in the basin.
“They have a plan to dump sediments into bull trout critical habitat in the face of a law that says they cannot do that,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso.
Considerable resources have been directed toward restoring bull trout populations in the Lower Clark Fork River and Rock Creek is a vital component of the Lower Clark Fork’s habitat. Those efforts will be wasted if this mine becomes operational.
The groups bringing suit are Rock Creek Alliance, Clark Fork Coalition, Cabinet Resource Group, Montana Wilderness Association, Earthworks, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Rivers Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Natural Resource Defense Council, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.