Environmentalists Sue Over Wilderness Mine

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Environmental groups filed another lawsuit aimed at blocking the proposed copper and silver mine beneath Montana’s Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

The lawsuit, filed Friday on behalf of 10 environmental groups, alleges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t adhere to the Endangered Species Act. The groups say the mine would harm bull trout and grizzly bears in the area.

The mine owners say they expect the lawsuit will get combined with another already pending in federal court in Missoula. Revett Minerals Inc. of Spokane, Wash., also says it believes all the issues raised in the challenges have been dealt with.

“The company feels quite strongly that these issues have been adequately studied and addressed,” said Carson Rife, vice president of operations.

Rife said the company hopes to get a judge’s decision on the matter by May. He said the company is ready to start developing the evaluation phase of the mine.

“It’s time to move forward,” Rife said.

Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice, said the pending lawsuit deals with water quality issues, while the latest filing deals with endangered species.

The lawsuit filing follows a 60-day notice of intent to sue that the environmental groups filed earlier this year.

The groups believe that federal analysis gave insufficient weight to likely harm to grizzly bears and bull trout, both protected under the Endangered Species Act. Groups involved in the lawsuit include the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Montana Wilderness Association and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

Besides environmental groups, mine critics have included Tiffany & Co. A full-page Washington Post advertisement the jeweler bought in 2004 declared the area more valuable for wildlife than for minerals.

Revett has undertaken wildlife mitigation measures, including the purchase of land to protect as grizzly bear habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service says grizzlies stand to fare better if the mine proceeds than if it does not.

Environmentalists argue the measures won’t help.

“They have a plan to dump sediments into bull trout critical habitat in the face of a law that says they cannot do that,” Preso said.