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Mining exploration plans in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest remain undisclosed to the public

February 1, 2024
Adam Rissien, WildEarth Guardians, arissien@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands   Bull trout, Canada lynx, Grizzly bear, Wolverine
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #ForceForNature, #PressStatement, #WildlandsForWildlife
HAMILTON, Mont.— Conservation groups urged the U.S. Forest Service today to disclose more information about a Canadian company’s mining exploration plans in  Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest, set to begin this summer. The area is crucial to numerous species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including grizzly  bears, bull trout, Canada lynx and wolverines. 

Canadian-owned mining company U.S. Critical Materials holds 7 square miles of mining  claims along the Sheep Creek and Johnson Creek drainages into the headwaters of the Bitterroot River, known for its scenic beauty, recreational opportunities and rich  biodiversity. The company has said it would begin exploratory work this summer at 10  sites at its proposed Sheep Creek Mine, including constructing new roads, building drill pads and drilling 700-foot holes.  

“The Sheep Creek Mine threatens a crucial waterway in the Bitterroot Valley and would  be a disaster for the clean water and world-class trout habitat the valley’s economy  depends on,” said Adam Rissien, rewilding manager with WildEarth Guardians. “We’ll fight to save the irreplaceable Bitterroot River from the damage and destruction that will  undoubtedly result if the Sheep Creek Mine proceeds.”   

In today’s letter to the Forest Service, the groups say that despite plans to begin work in  the coming months, U.S. Critical Materials has not submitted a required plan of  operation to the Forest Service, raising concerns over transparency and public  participation. The Forest Service has ignored the groups’ requests for information about  the project, making it difficult to determine the timelines for exploration and mining.  

“The Forest Service needs to take a hard look at the irreversible damage mining near  the headwaters of the Bitterroot River could do to this fragile ecosystem and the plants  and animals that depend on it,” Kristine Akland, Northern Rockies director for the Center  for Biological Diversity. “This is not a place to put a mine and we’ll do everything we can  to block bulldozers from destroying this beautiful biodiversity hotspot.”

“Just the thought of an industrial scale mine on the Bitterroot River horrifies most  Bitterrooters,” said Larry Campbell, conservation director for Friends of the Bitterroot  and a retired exploration geologist. “A worse location would be hard to find. The  Bitterroot fishing and irrigated agriculture economies are hugely important, sustainable,  locally owned and dispersed across many local beneficiaries, unlike the proposed  Canadian-owned Sheep Creek mine. The company would take the profits and leave us  with economic and environmental losses. Now is the time to begin the long-haul battle  to save the Bitterroot.”

In their letter, the groups say mining in the area could violate federal laws protecting wildlife, water, public lands and public participation, including the Endangered Species  Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The letter also notes the potential harms  from the project to wildlife, wilderness areas and recreation, and the economic blow to  the local community.  

Bitterroot River near Darby, MT. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson


Other Contact
Kristine Akland, Center for Biological Diversity, kakland@biologicaldiversity.org , Larry Campbell, Friends of the Bitterroot, lcampbell@bitterroot.net