Backed by businesses, Tester seeks ban on Yellowstone area mining

Backed by a coalition of Montana business owners who rely on tourism and recreation for their livelihood, Tester said his proposed legislation would make permanent a temporary mining ban imposed by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell outside Yellowstone National Park. (Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday announced plans to implement a ban on mining in the Paradise Valley, saying that while resource extraction plays a role in the state’s economy, it is not suited for the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park.

Backed by a coalition of Montana business owners who rely on tourism and recreation for their livelihood, Tester said his proposed legislation would make permanent a temporary mining ban imposed by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“Imagine winding your way from Livingston to Yellowstone, down the Paradise Valley to the Gardiner Basin, only to see large-scale mining activity,” Tester said during a media call on Tuesday. “An operation like that would put the local economy at risk.”

Currently, there are at least two mining proposals in the area north of Yellowstone National Park. They include a proposal by Lucky Minerals near Emigrant and another near Jardine by Crevice Mining Group.

Last November, U.S. officials blocked new mining claims outside the park in an effort to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Mining north of Yellowstone was prohibited for two years, giving federal officials time to consider a long-term ban.

Tester said it is time to make that ban permanent.

“Responsible natural resource development plays an important role in Montana’s economy, but there are places you should not dig or drill, and the front porch of Yellowstone Park is one of those places,” Tester said. “The two-year moratorium was a good step, though this bill makes that permanent.”

The legislation has the support of a coalition of Yellowstone-area business owners, including Collin Davis, a managing partner at Chico Hot Springs, and Tracy Raich of Raich Montana Properties.

As members of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, they approached Tester two years ago with concerns about the impacts of proposed mining. The legislation has nothing to do with politics, they said, but everything to do with their livelihood, wildlife and the Yellowstone environment.

“We advocate for property rights and property values, and we’re not anti-mining,” said Raich. “But if we don’t protect these resources, this place where we raise our children and succeed as entrepreneurs will be jeopardized forever.”

Casey Walsh, owner of Simms Fishing Products, also supports the measure, saying the Yellowstone River is critical to his business and others like it. Sport fishing generates around $350 million in retail sales in Montana each year and employs 6,000 workers, Walsh said.

“The Yellowstone is one of those critical rivers to our business and one of the most important in the state of Montana,” said Walsh. “There are plenty of places to develop mines, and this isn’t one of them.”

Tester said he has sent the text of his measure to Sen. Steve Daines and is waiting to hear back from the Montana Republican. The state’s two congressional candidates, Rob Quist and Greg Gianforte, have both expressed support for the measure, Tester added.

As a U.S. congressman, Ryan Zinke did as well. He now serves as Interior secretary.

“I made an announcement that I’d do this bill in the next Congress, and (Zinke) got a hold of me back then and said he liked that idea and was in support of it,” Tester said. “He’s in a different position now and has a few more hoops he’s got to jump through. But I have great hope that he’ll jump through those hoops.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com