New mining claims in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park could soon be blocked for the next 20 years by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will have the final word on a plan to block the lands from new mining claims, a move that was recommended by U.S. officials.
The Associated Press reported that Regional Forester Leanne Marten submitted a letter to the Bureau of Land Management endorsing a plan to withdraw 12,140 ha (30,000 acres) in Montana’s Paradise Valley and the Gardiner Basin from new claims for gold, silver, platinum and other minerals, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Marna Daley said.
Zinke favors the withdrawal and said in a statement that the plan could be finalized in coming weeks.
Opposition to mining claims on federal lands is notable coming from Zinke and the Trump administration which has been outspoken in its advocacy for the mining industry and the administrations’ criticism of government regulations said to stifle economic development. The proposal has received bipartisan backing in Montana, with Democrats and Republicans alike eager to cast themselves as protectors of the natural beauty of the Yellowstone region that is also home to robust recreational and tourism industries.
The Forest Service recommendation follows concerns among business owners, residents and local officials that two proposed mining projects north of Yellowstone could damage waterways and hurt tourism, a mainstay of the local economy.
Those two projects would not be directly affected because the companies behind them have already made their mining claims, the companies have said. But others have said the new move could discourage investment into those projects.
The withdrawal includes only public lands, not existing mining claims or exploration on private lands. It’s been in the works since 2016 under Zinke’s predecessor, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The mining industry opposes putting the public land off limits. Backers of the withdrawal want it made permanent.
Under the proposal, government officials have estimated that 81 acres would still be disturbed by mining and 7.2 km (4.5 miles) of new roads would be built, according to a Forest Service analysis completed in March. That compares to an estimated 53 ha (130 acres) of land disturbed by mining and 11 km (7 miles) of roads over 20 years if the withdrawal were not enacted.