You’ve seen the signs
But what’s the story behind the campaign to stop mining near Yellowstone?
J.D. Bingman, Montana outfitter license number 614, says he’s not much for making ripples in the pond when it comes to the controversial topics of the day. It’s just that he earns his living on rivers, including the Yellowstone. The owner of Wild Trout Outfitters believes the Yellowstone River’s headwaters are no place for industrial mining operations like those proposed near Jardine and Emigrant. That’s why he’s one of several Big Sky business owners now part of a campaign powered mostly by employers and residents in Park County.
The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition and its dontmineyellowstone.com campaign website make the argument that some places are too special to open up for extraction. Bingman wholeheartedly agrees and thinks others in Big Sky should get involved, “Because your community could be next. That’s what comes to mind.”
Bingman thinks Montana’s most valuable asset is its pristine environment and that mining trades this renewable resource for short-term gains.
“Montana has been mined enough,” he said.
Lucky Minerals is the company looking to operate near Emigrant. In a press release about its plans, the company quoted John Childs, a Bozeman-based mining consultant, who worked on an exploration project in Emigrant Gulch in the early 1990s. He still feels the area can be mined successfully.
“I think it’s gotten a lot of bad press, and I think we need to look at both sides,” he said. “I think it’s a worthy project.”
The press release went on to quote a bartender in Gardiner, who said in winter when tourism slows, “Gardiner becomes a ghost town, and it’s not a pretty one.”
Those for and against mining near Yellowstone point to jobs on Main Street when arguing their points of view.
One community-crafted example of this is Sen. Jon Tester’s Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act. It aims to protect the local economy by permanently shielding thousands of acres north of Yellowstone from gold mine proposals.
Members of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition promote the bill as protecting jobs and private property. It’s pitched as a locally inspired solution to the national challenge of conserving Yellowstone. Supporters say more than 340 local businesses have come together to stand with Sen. Tester in his push for action.
“Sen. Tester is making a decision based on the support and overwhelming will of the community, that public lands in the corridor to Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone River are worthy of protection, for future generations and for the local economy,” Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort, told the media nearly a year ago. Today, the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act remains stalled in the U.S. Senate.
“The bill is sitting in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Sen. Daines is a member,” said Sen. Tester’s Communication Director Marneé Banks, adding, “It received a hearing in July last year but has not gotten a vote yet. The junior senator has yet to offer support for Jon’s bill, and that will be critical in getting this legislation through Congress.”
When asked for an update from Sen. Daines, his office issued this statement from the senator: “I support the local community’s efforts for a mineral withdrawal to protect Paradise Valley. We need to focus on the best path forward with the highest chance of success for securing protections for the Gateway to Yellowstone. I am working to find a resolution that will yield results and believe we are getting closer.”
Will Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act be No. 14?
Heading into what will be an expensive and contentious race to keep his seat, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is touting his record for pushing legislation across the finish line. Here’s a list of Tester legislation that became law this Congress:
1 GAO Access and Oversight Act
2 Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act
3 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
4 VA Choice and Quality Employment Act
5 Harry W Colmery Veteran Educational Assistance Act
6 Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
7 VA Expiring Authorities Act
8 Veterans’ Compensation Cost-Of-Living Adjustment Act
9 Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act
10 AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act
11 Alex Diekmann Peak Designation Act
12 Honoring Hometown Heroes Act
13 Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act
Mining Yellowstone 101
In the summer of 2015, Montanans learned a Canadian mining company, Lucky Minerals Inc., proposed to “aggressively explore” for gold in Emigrant Gulch on the flanks of Emigrant Peak. Emigrant Peak is located in Park County and is just 17 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. Ultimately, the company hopes to develop “a multi-million ounce gold resource” across three drainages on over 2,500 acres in the Emigrant Gulch area.
The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition asked the U.S. Forest Service to initiate a mineral withdrawal to prevent mining operations on public lands while Congress considers legislation to protect these economically and ecologically critical lands near Yellowstone Park. In November 2016, the Forest Service initiated a mineral withdrawal, which temporarily prevents mining on public lands. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has stated he will extend the temporary protections for up to 20 years. Federal legislation is necessary to create permanent protections.
In addition to the exploratory drilling proposal in Emigrant Gulch, Crevice Mining Group, LLC (CMG) hold leases to multiple mining claims in the Crevice Mountain area, near Jardine. These claims are within eye-shot of Gardiner and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and some go up to the park boundary.
The Crevice Mountain area contains multiple drainages flowing directly into the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. It is important habitat for a variety of wildlife. If allowed to develop, this mine would have potentially devastating implications for water quality, wildlife and the tourism-based economy in Gardiner, Park County and beyond.
—Park County Environmental Council