The ban on new mining claims near Yellowstone National Park was extended for another 20 years by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who signed the ban in a ceremony in the park’s Paradise Valley on Oct. 8.
A temporary ban on new claims in the area was put in place in 2016 under former president Barack Obama. Zinke’s order extends that ban on new claims for gold, silver and other minerals on 121 km2 (47 sq miles) of public lands in the Paradise Valley and Gardiner Basin. Most of the land is within the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman, congressman was joined by local business owners and residents who pushed for the ban after companies began drafting plans for new mines in an area frequented by wolves, elk, bears and other wildlife.
“I’m a pro-mining guy. I love hardrock mining,” Zinke said. “But there are places to mine and places not to mine.”
Not all are in favor of the ban. The Associated Press reported that mining companies and industry representatives said the area includes historical mining districts that should not be barred from future development. Mining claims give their holders legal rights to explore for minerals.
The action does not stop mining on private land or take away pre-existing mining claims on public lands but it will likely make a large-scale mine in the area much less likely because adjacent public lands would be needed to make such a project economically feasible.
John Mears, president of Lucky Minerals, said his company is not backing down. The Vancouver, Canada-based company plans to press ahead with exploration work next year on private lands around Emigrant Peak that are inside one of the areas where mining has been banned.
The administration's action was notable given President Donald Trump's outspoken advocacy for the mining industry and his criticism of government regulations said to stifle economic development.
It comes as Trump has sought to lift protections on public lands elsewhere, including his controversial decision to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.
Zinke said the threat of mining near Yellowstone was different because residents and business owners were in agreement on the issue. The Utah monuments have been controversial since their creation.
The mining ban had bipartisan backing in Montana, where Democrats and Republicans alike have been eager to cast themselves as protectors of the natural beauty of the Yellowstone region.
Colin Davis with the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition said the group will now focus on making the ban permanent through pending measures in Congress.
"Our eye is still on permanent legislation," said Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort. "The prize is permanent legislation so we're not doing this again in 20 years."
A House committee on Sept. 26 approved permanent withdrawal legislation sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. A Senate committee last week approved identical legislation from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester that's also backed by Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.