Montana Officials Object to Limits on Mining Because of Bird

Governor said the mining restrictions threatened to impede sage grouse conservation efforts

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press

BILLINGS — Montana’s governor and attorney general objected Wednesday to a federal proposal to withdraw almost a million acres of public land in the state from future mining to protect greater sage grouse.

Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox said in separate statements that the mining restrictions were not needed.

Fox called for the withdrawals to be canceled, while Bullock said the state would be able to conserve sage grouse even with mining on some of the land.

The U.S. Interior Department in September proposed the mining restrictions affecting almost 10 million acres in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah and Oregon. The move was intended to prevent disturbances to the chicken-sized bird’s habitat and help keep it off the endangered species list.

At the time, Bullock praised the Interior Department’s decision not to put the bird on the endangered list as good news for the state’s economy.

But in a Wednesday letter to U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, the Democratic governor said the mining restrictions threatened to impede sage grouse conservation efforts in the state.

Montana’s sage grouse plan “is built specifically upon the premise that all lands would remain working lands,” Bullock wrote. “The proposed mineral withdrawal undermines this good work, as it seen by many in Montana as a blatant effort by the federal government to overreach.”

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management’s Montana state office referred questions to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which did not immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

The lands at issue in Montana are located in the northeastern portion of the state, primarily in Phillips and Valley counties. They will be subject to a two-year “segregation period” during which new mining claims will not be allowed. Also during the time, the government plans to conduct environmental studies to decide if the lands should be withdrawn from mining for a longer period.

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