The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the construction of a silver-copper mine in the Cabinet Mountains on the border of Montana and Idaho will not jeopardize the local grizzly bear population and that the two can coexist.
In an opinion issued this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the Montanore Mine’s operations would result in the estimated loss of one federally protected grizzly, but mitigation required of the mine’s owners would more than make up for the loss, the Spokesman-Review reported.
Mines Management Inc. has been working since 2005 to permit the Montanore project. The site is about 15 miles south of Libby, MT, employing about 350 people over a mine life of at least 15 years, according to company documents.
The mine will be required to acquire nearly 5,000 acres of grizzly habitat at risk for development. Other mitigation requirements include hiring a grizzly bear specialist and law enforcement officer to work in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, converting some Forest Service trails to nonmotorized use and purchasing bear-proof containers for campgrounds.
The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem on the Idaho-Montana border is one of six areas in the continental United States where the federal government is committed to restoring grizzly populations. About 42 grizzlies inhabit the area, according to a recent DNA study, the Spokesman-Review reported.
The biological opinion is an important milestone, but federal agencies must also issue a final environmental impact statement and record of decision before the project could move forward.
Grizzly mitigation is similar to the measures required for the nearby Rock Creek project, which also would tunnel underneath the Cabinet wilderness area to extract silver and copper. The Rock Creek deposit is owned by Revett Minerals of Spokane Valley.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials evaluated the Montanore Mine’s effect on threatened bull trout populations, saying that mining excavation would lead to permanent changes in groundwater flows, including less water in Rock Creek and the East Fork of the Bull River. Despite the localized impact to bull trout, the mine shouldn’t jeopardize populations in the Lower Clark Fork or Kootenai River, Fish and Wildlife officials said.