Tester, Gianforte call for Yellowstone protections

Gulch

Photo by Will Campbell

An aerial view of Emigrant Gulch, looking toward Yellowstone National Park from Emigrant Peak, shows the mining claims on both sides of the gulch that state leaders want withdrawn from consideration.

Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte are urging congressional leaders to include protections for 30,000 acres north of Yellowstone National Park in this year’s spending bill, citing widespread opposition to mineral development eyed for the area.

Gianforte, a Republican, and Tester, a Democrat, each sent letters to the House and Senate leadership, urging them to include the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act in the 2018 spending bill.

“This locally crafted legislation … does not bar any activity on private lands, but simply withdraws the mineral rights on 30,000 acres of public lands in the area,” Tester wrote to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The Department of Interior has been pursuing an administrative withdrawal for the same area, and Secretary (Ryan) Zinke has pushed to expedite reviews of the withdrawal, and supports the maximum 20-year withdrawal for the area.”

Last year, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Associated Press that Zinke was “fully in the corner of protecting the Paradise Valley” outside Yellowstone — something Zinke had told Tester he would consider and possibly support.

Zinke also supports a 20-year withdrawal of mining claims, though Tester would like to see that made permanent.

“While a 20-year administrative withdrawal would formally recognize the need to protect this essential area, it simply kicks the can down the road for the next generation while leaving the threat to the region in place,” Tester said. “We have a simple, bipartisan solution to protect this area for our kids and grandkids forever.”

Gianforte expressed similar sentiments in his request to the House Appropriations Committee, calling the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act “a collaborative approach to assist the community, as well as protecting the gateway community from future conflicts.”

Currently, there are at least two mining proposals in the area north of Yellowstone National Park. They include a proposal by Lucky Minerals near Emigrant and another near Jardine by Crevice Mining Group.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has already approved test drilling near Emigrant. Several conservation groups have sued DEQ to stop the drilling by Lucky Minerals.

This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.

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