On October 8, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a 20-year ban on new hardrock mining exploration north of Yellowstone. His decision, which follows a similar recommendation from the Forest Service, puts 30,000 acres in the Paradise Valley and Gardiner Basin off-limits to new mining claims.
“There are places where it is appropriate to mine and places where it is not,” said Zinke in a statement to The Hill. “Paradise Valley is one of the areas it’s not.” The withdrawal was greeted with cheers from some conservation groups and tourism interests. Others, however, criticized what they see as Zinke’s penchant for favoring protections close to home.
The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, which has the support of more than 400 area businesses, applauded Zinke’s decision. “My husband has worked in the mining industry for over 27 years and we support the mining industry, but the Paradise Valley which serves as the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park is not the right location for any new mining activity,” said Tracy Raich, who co-founded the local business organization. “Thank you, Secretary Ryan Zinke, for listening to us and for understanding what’s at stake.”
Some national environmental groups also praised the Forest Service and Interior Department for moving to limit new mining in the area. “National Parks Conservation Association commends Agriculture Secretary Perdue and Interior Secretary Zinke for defending Yellowstone’s doorstep from industrial gold mining,” said a statement from NPCA’s President Theresa Pierno.
But some skeptics chalked the decision up to political ambitions and local favoritism. “While Zinke rushes to open up places like Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the Boundary Waters to copper, uranium, and coal mining, only Montana’s natural treasures get the protection they deserve,” wrote Aaron Weiss, the media director for the conservation advocacy group Center for Western Priorities. “It’s now clear Ryan Zinke will only do the right thing when his political future is on the line.”
The Trump administration, supported by the Congressional Western Caucus, attempted to reverse a similar moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. Zinke’s Interior Department also let a mineral withdrawal on Oregon’s Chetco River expire this summer.
The 20-year ban is the longest time period Zinke can sign off on without congressional approval. The Forest Service manages nearly all the land covered by Zinke’s decision; the Interior Department manages the below-ground minerals on public lands. Only Congress or the president can permanently protect the area.
This story was originally published at High Country News on Oct 10, 2018.
Top photo: Yellowstone NP