Skip to main content

Defending the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

Defend the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
The pristine wilderness is facing irreparable harm from the proposed Rock Creek and Montanore mines. Take action to help save the Cabinets.

Take Action: Your Voice Can Make a Difference

If you live in Montana — or have friends who do — please call Gov. Steve Bullock's office and the state Department of Environmental Quality at (406) 412-6076 and share this message: Montana residents support the enforcement of Montana’s “bad actor” mining law against Hecla Mining CEO Phillips Baker.

Montana is stepping up to hold the leadership of serial polluter Pegasus Gold accountable for contaminating sacred tribal lands, clean water, and irreplaceable trout habitat and forcing the public to pay for their messes. Until now, the state has never used this important legal tool against powerful mining companies.

Please add your voice today to let Gov. Bullock and the Dept. of Environmental Quality know they’ve made the right choice for Montana.

  • Read about Montanans’ fight to enforce the state’s “bad actor” mining law.
  • If you call — thank you! — please let us know how your call went.
“Destroy the last, best place … just for a few handfuls of dollars, to make somebody else rich, who doesn’t even live here in Montana? It’s greed. Greed over beauty.”
Wilbert Michel Bucksin, Ksanka Band elder
The Cabinet Mountains are located in northwestern Montana.
The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is one of the nation’s original wilderness areas.

Alongside our allies and on behalf of our clients, Earthjustice has worked to hold the line in the Cabinet Mountains for decades, successfully defeating each illegal proposal to mine beneath the wilderness. (Learn about our legal work.)

On July 16, on behalf of the Ksanka Kupaqa Xaʾⱡȼin (a traditional society within the Ksanka Band of the Ktunaxa Nation), Fort Belknap Indian Community, and a coalition of conservation groups, Earthjustice requested to intervene in the enforcement lawsuit brought by the Dept. of Environmental Quality against Hecla Mining CEO Phillips Baker.

“The bad actor law offers a critical opportunity to hold the leadership of Pegasus Gold accountable for the unspeakable harm they inflicted on Montana’s communities and waters,” said Katherine O'Brien, staff attorney in Earthjustice's Northern Rockies office, who is leading the legal fight to defend the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

Katherine O'Brien.
Eric Ian for Earthjustice
Katherine O'Brien is a staff attorney in Earthjustice's Northern Rockies office.

Ktunaxa tribal members, including elder Wilbert Michel Buckskin, have been working to bring together the seven bands that make up the Ktunaxa Nation to fight the proposed Rock Creek and Montanore mines.

Below, Buckskin reflects on the fight to save the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

Ktunaxa tribal member Wilbert Michel Buckskin is working to bring together the seven bands that make up the Ktunaxa Nation to fight the proposed Rock Creek and Montanore mines.
Eric Ian for Earthjustice
Wilbert Michel Buckskin, Ktunaxa tribal member.

The cool chill of the air … a long creak from a nearby tree … the whistle of leaves as they flutter by. Then, the birds begin to chirp.

“It’s like Mother Nature coming alive!” says Wilbert Michel Buckskin, as he recounts the details of hunting trips he has taken in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. As a child, he remembers waking up alongside his dad in a little lean-to beneath the soaring cliffs and peaks.

Buckskin is a member of the Ktunaxa Nation, also known as the Kootenai (KOO-tun-ee), and proud to be part of the Crazy Dog Society, a highly esteemed group of tribal members who’ve served in the U.S. military.

Lately, his fight isn’t to protect America writ large but his own home against a corporation that seeks to mine this untouched gem of northwest Montana. Or, as he puts it, his “heart” and “soul,” where he goes to connect with his “cultural spirit.”

Hecla Mining Company has proposed building two massive mines in the Cabinets, tunneling beneath pristine forests and streams to access a large silver and copper deposit.

East Bull Fork River. If constructed, the Montanore Mine will drain water from this river, the area’s most important bull trout spawning stream.
Katherine O'Brien / Earthjustice
East Bull Fork River. If constructed, the Montanore Mine will drain water from this river, the area’s most important bull trout spawning stream. Learn more.

The mines would excavate tens of thousands of tons of ore each day, seven days a week, for decades and produce more than 120 million tons of mining waste.

The mining process would rob water from wilderness streams that provide vital habitat for threatened bull trout and threaten the survival of an ecologically critical and culturally significant population of grizzly bears.

And developing the mines would drill into the heart of the tribe’s culture. Buckskin explains that for the Ktunaxa, the Cabinets are more than just a wilderness area. The mountains serve as the “backyard” and “living room” for grizzly bears, a culturally important species for the tribe. They’re also the place where many tribal members still visit regularly to carry out the spiritual ceremonies and cultural practices passed down from their ancestors.

A member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community holds a glass of contaminated water from the Zortman-Landusky mines.
Photo courtesy of Earthworks
A member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community holds a glass of contaminated water from the Zortman-Landusky mines. Learn more.

They hope to share this home with their children and grandchildren — if mining doesn’t destroy it.

Buckskin is part of a growing movement within the tribal community to stop the two proposed mines. But the fight to protect this area is not new. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Ktunaxa Nation members from the U.S. and Canada came together to successfully stop a plan to build a dam at Kootenai Falls, a sacred location near the wilderness area.

Today, tribal members like Buckskin are working to once again bring together the seven bands that make up the Ktunaxa Nation to fight the proposed Rock Creek and Montanore mines.

They’re motivated in part by seeing the devastation wrought by the Zortman-Landusky mines, a pair of abandoned gold mines that continues to contaminate the lands and waters of the Fort Belknap Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes in eastern Montana.

All Montanans can help defend the Cabinets by showing support for DEQ's enforcement of Montana’s “bad actor” mining law.

The CEO of Hecla, which is pushing to mine in the Cabinet Mountains, was a top official at the company that ran Zortman-Landusky. Ktunaxa advocates want to make sure that their aboriginal lands within the Cabinet Mountains do not become another casualty of the mining industry.

“[The idea that they would] destroy the last, best place is pretty devastating to me. And why?” Buckskin asks. “Just for a few handfuls of dollars to make somebody else rich who doesn’t even live here in Montana? It’s greed. Greed over beauty.” 

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
Eric Ian for Earthjustice
The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. If constructed, the Rock Creek and Montanore mines are predicted to drain water from wilderness streams, reducing flows for more than 1,000 years, and threaten higher levels of human-caused mortality for the precariously small population of grizzly bears. 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. Take action to help defend the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

More Videos

Because the Earth Needs a Good Lawyer

With more than one hundred of the country's top environmental lawyers on staff, Earthjustice is uniquely prepared to defend against attacks on our environment and our health where it counts most: in court.

Trading Fossils For Fossil Fuels

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may hold the key to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. But Trump wants to trade these fossils for fossil fuel.

The Wild Future

President Trip Van Noppen discusses how to manage and protect wild ecosystems in a warming world. That the world is changing is undeniable—but the loss of our natural heritage as a result is an outcome that we refuse to let happen. Our nation's remaining wild places deserve a fighting chance.