U.S. Approves Montana Mine after Long Ecology Fight
SALMON, Idaho -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cleared the way for a silver and copper mine in northwest Montana Friday that has been mired in controversy for more than two decades.
Revett Silver Company of Spokane, Washington, a subsidiary of Revett Minerals, plans to open a 10,000-ton-per-day operation by tapping deposits below the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness in Montana, one of the nation's first areas to receive protections under the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act.
Clearance by the federal wildlife agency for the planned Rock Creek Mine, which is expected to cost more than $165 million over a five-year, multiphase process, comes after years-long legal battles between the mining company and conservation groups over the region's fragile ecosystem.
The Cabinets contain a small and struggling population of grizzly bears, which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, and a dwindling number of threatened bull trout.
In a decision released Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the mine will not adversely affect the area's bears and fish provided the company monitors the effects of its operations on both populations over the mine's 35-year life.
Carson Rife, Revett's vice president of operations, hailed the decision as a major milestone, saying the measures the mining outfit will adopt to lessen the impacts on protected species show that "we can actually have a cooperative situation between industry and the environment."
Environmentalists vowed to return to court over the decision. Conservation groups say the Rock Creek Mine will deal a death blow to both species by displacing the area's 30 remaining bears and fouling the waterways where bull trout live and spawn.
"Bull trout there are experiencing a death by a thousand cuts and this is the worst of all," said Rob Roberts, coordinator with Trout Unlimited, the nation's leading trout and salmon conservation organization.
The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 concluded the proposed Rock Creek Mine would not place bears and fish at risk but last year a federal judge ruled that assessment was flawed.
In issuing its approval to Revett on Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the mitigation steps it is requiring the mining outfit to adopt should satisfy the concerns raised in the 2005 court ruling.