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BLM releases plan that could allow mining in Alaska's White Mountains
January 21, 2013

An alternative to a land management plan that was released by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could allow mining in a portion of the Alaska’s White Mountains National Recreation Area.

The BLM said the proposal is not its preferred alternative for land management in the 1 million acre recreation area and the proposal still is causing concern among some who fear mining is not compatible with an area that has become popular for skiers, hunters, snowmachiners and other users, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The new alternative is a supplement to the Eastern Interior Draft Resource Management Plan that BLM first released last March. Commentators to that plan challenged the exclusion of mining as a possible use in the White Mountains, saying BLM had misinterpreted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act when it came to the conclusion that mining was prohibited there.

After taking another look, BLM agreed. It released a revised plan Jan. 11 that would allow mining on about 16 percent of the recreation area. Portions of the White Mountains previously have been active gold mining areas, but no active claims remain.

“The most recent heyday, if you want to call it that, was in the 1970s and 1980s,” Jeanie Cole, BLM’s local planning and environmental manager told the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s kind of tapered off since then.”

The Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas (CACFA) was among the groups that requested that BLM take a new look at mining in the area. Stan Leaphart, CACFA’s executive director, said he believes BLM’s earlier decision was an honest misinterpretation of a complex issue, not an effort to derail the possibility of mining in the area.

Although no mining companies are pursuing claims in the White Mountains now that could change as rare earth minerals have been found in old core samples from some areas in the White Mountains.

The mining option would allow leasing on 149,000 acres with medium and high potential for placer gold deposits and 11,000 acres with the rare-earth elements lanthanum, praseodymium, cerium and neodymium.

“With the impetus today on rare earth elements, this shows the greatest concentration of rare earth metals in the Interior,” said Karl Gohlke, executive director for the Fairbanks branch of the Alaska Miners Association. “That’s the motivation for opening this up.”

The mining option is in the Alternative D version the draft plan. The BLM’s “preferred alternative” is Alternative C, which does not allow mining leasing in the area.

Comments on the plans are due by April 11. BLM also plans to conduct a series of still-unscheduled public meetings in February.
A new land management plan is expected to be implemented in 2014.


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