An environmental assessment released today from the U.S. Forest Service recommends a 20-year ban on new mining developments on public land in the Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park.
The agency recommends withdrawing more than 30,000 acres from mining exploration.
"The northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park is no place for a mine," says Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association.
Two mining firms, Lucky Minerals and Crevice Mining Group are pursuing gold mining projects in nearby Park county on private land. The extended ban would not impact those developments, but Adams says it would potentially deter further exploration.
"Our hope is that by protecting those public lands that so many in Montana and in the country value, the mines then won’t be moving forward at a large scale," Adams says.
The Obama Administration put a two-year halt on mining claims in the area in 2016. Since that time, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte have both championed legislation to create permanently bans in the area.
The Montana Mining Association opposes the mineral withdrawals, says Executive Director Tammy Johnson.
"With half of the nation’s mineral estate already off limits or under restrictions for developments, it’s absolutely critical that we have these beginning stage exploration projects," she says.
Johnson says responsible resource development can exist alongside the state’s outdoor recreation economy. She thinks domestic mineral production is preferable to the alternative.
"The most consumptive society on the planet should maybe take a look at whether they want to export these impacts to countries that may not be friendly, may be dictatorship and certainly are not using mining methods that we stopped using decades and decades ago," Johnson says.
Twenty years is the maximum limit for a temporary ban. Permanent protection is only possible through legislative action.
The public comment period on the proposal runs until April 29th. Information on submitting comments is available here.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to issue a final decision on the ban this fall.