Environmental Groups Sue to Stop Montanore Mine

Coalition says proposed mine would endanger bull trout, grizzly bears

By Beacon Staff

A coalition of conservation groups have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to stop the proposed Montanore copper and silver mine in northwest Montana, saying the project would jeopardize the survival and recovery of threatened species like bull trout and grizzly bears.

Located along the border of Lincoln and Sanders counties, just beneath the Cabinet Mountains, the Montanore project aims to tap into one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and silver deposits. The proposed mine holds an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of copper and 230 million ounces of silver beneath an area that includes the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

The conservation groups Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula to overturn the FWS’ determination that the mine will not jeopardize critical habitat.

Represented by Earthjustice, the groups argue the federal agency ignored and dismissed its own findings by ruling that the mine’s adverse effects would be inconsequential to the species. They are asking a federal judge to rule the agency violated the Endangered Species Act.

“Bull trout and grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains are teetering on the brink of extinction, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own evidence shows that the Montanore Mine would push them over the edge,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien in a statement. “The Service had no basis to conclude that turning these species’ habitat into an industrial mine site would allow them to survive and recover.”

Mary Costello, executive director of Save Our Cabinets, said either mine could have “massive, long-term impacts” on area wildlife and water. Costello is particularly concerned about the dewatering of wilderness streams, adding that it could impact endangered bull trout. Critics say that both mines could have permanent impacts on the ground water table and leave some streambeds dry year round.

“Grizzly bears and bull trout are an integral part of Montana’s wild places and mountain streams,” Costello said. “The Montanore Mine would spoil the habitat in the Cabinet Mountains for these species and ruin the enjoyment of countless people who treasure Montana’s native fish and wildlife.”

The two deposits are separated by about 7,000 feet of earth and a fault line, suggesting that at one time it was actually one ore body.

Officials with Mines Management disagree with but are not surprised by the lawsuit, calling it a “knee-jerk reaction” and saying all environmental concerns would be addressed in the final and supplemental environmental impact statements due this year.

The project has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Forest Service and is awaiting a final Record of Decision.

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