Mining Company, Conservation Group Team Up For Wilderness Designation

By Beacon Staff

Mining companies and conservation groups don’t often see eye to eye, but that has happened following the release of the new Kootenai National Forest Plan. On Sept. 27, Revett Minerals and the Montana Wilderness Association came together to applaud a plan to designate part of the Scotchman Peaks Roadless Area as a wilderness. If approved, the wilderness boundary would fall within a mile of Revett’s Troy Mine.

“As a conservationist, I’ve been following this issue since the 1980s and I cannot recall an instance where a mining company and a wilderness advocacy group were speaking together,” said Ben Long, a member of the Montana Wilderness Association. “I think it’s unprecedented.”

The Scotchman Peaks span 88,000 acres of land along the Idaho and Montana border, a portion of which is managed by the Kootenai National Forest. The new forest plan recommends approximately 34,000 acres of land be designated a wilderness area.

Montana Wilderness Association board member Doug Ferrell said including the Scotchman Peaks in the plan is an important step toward its protection. Congress holds the power to create a wilderness area. Other areas slated for protection in the new forest plan include the Yaak Valley and the Whitefish Range.

Revett CEO and President John Shanahan said his company was supporting the wilderness designation because the people who work at the mine also recreate nearby and understand the importance of a pristine wilderness. He added that having a wilderness just a mile away proves that a modern mining operation can run without harming the nearby environment.

“The more we understand the wilderness and the more (conservation groups) understand a modern mine operation, the more we find that we have a lot more in common than we thought,” Shanahan said. “As a mining company we’re honored that a wilderness can be designated so close to what we do because it proves to us that we can do it; that you can have a modern mine next to a pristine wilderness.”

Shanahan hoped that the wilderness designation near the Troy Mine would buffer criticism of Revett’s other mining project in the area, the Rock Creek Mine. Conservation groups, including the Rock Creek Alliance, have said the silver and copper mine would permanently damage the nearby Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.

“The Rock Creek Alliance tells people that the Rock Creek Mine will be an open pit operation and that the wilderness will be zoned industrial, but that’s simply not true,” he said.

Ferrell said having Revett’s support in making the Scotchman Peaks a wilderness area would be critical when it comes to convincing Congress to support the action.

“Today, loggers, miners and conservationists are natural allies because we all want the U.S. Forest Service to make common sense decisions to better utilize our resources and preserve these wild places,” Ferrell said. “This will show Congress that there is universal support for protecting our wilderness.”

The Troy Mine was first operated from 1981 to 1993. In 2005, Revett reopened the copper and silver mine. It has been shutdown since December because of rockslides underground, but officials are optimistic that mining will begin again in December.

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