Grizzly Bear Yellowstone, ©Sandy Sisti

The Menace of Montanore Mine

FWS identifies the project’s threat to imperiled species, approves it anyway

Nothing says western wilderness quite like intact landscapes with grizzly bears and healthy streams with native bull trout. But a proposed mining project in northwest Montana threatens the habitat and survival of these species protected under the Endangered Species Act. In June, Defenders joined a coalition of conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, and filed suit to challenge the proposed Montanore Mine, which would drill and extract up to 20,000 tons of copper and silver ore every day for up to 20 years. Beyond the footprint of the mine, the project would also require construction of pipelines, waste facilities, and 14 miles of high voltage transmission lines. It would also mean paving and widening 13 miles of roads, chopping down trees and vegetation along the way. In total, the mine would disturb 1,500 acres of pristine landscape adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in the Kootenai National Forest. In fact, once constructed, the mine would bore under the wilderness area. This wild landscape’s forests and streams provide rare undeveloped habitat for threatened bull trout and grizzly bears, and a host of other species from mountain goats to mountain lions.

Good Cop FWS: “Montanore Mine is bad news…”

Bull trout, © Dan Brewer/USFWS

Because the mine requires U.S. Forest Service permission and has the potential to impact protected species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must analyze the effects the project could have on the animals and their habitat. On March 31, 2014, FWS published its findings. The agency determined that the mine would permanently reduce streamflows in bull trout critical habitat, as well as cause sediment pollution and dump wastewater from the mine into the streams, even though that water will be too hot for bull trout to handle. These impacts may also cut off the trout’s access to essential upstream spawning areas. In other words, this mine would wreak permanent havoc on bull trout populations that are already teetering on the brink and critical habitat that is already degraded. Bull trout need very cold and clear water to survive. This narrow necessity makes bull trout vulnerable to local extinctions, which have already occurred in an estimated 55% of their historic range in the Columbia River Basin, where the proposed Montanore Mine site is located.

Grizzly bears don’t fare any better with the proposed mine. Like bull trout, grizzly bears in the region are already vulnerable to local extinctions, and the project could push this over the edge. FWS determined the proposed mine could displace three of the four adult female grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains, which would deal a significant blow to the small population of approximately 21 bears. The situation for grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, which includes the Cabinet Mountains and is one of six areas designated as essential to grizzly bear recovery in the lower 48 states, is already dire. FWS has found that humans kill about one bear in the area each year – an unsustainable rate of loss for a species that takes so long to reproduce. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks already have to add to this population with grizzly bears from the Northern Continental Divide population in Montana to help keep the numbers up. Grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem are slowly starting to see increasing numbers but the Montanore Mine could reverse that trend by ushering in a proposed 800 additional people to the bears’ habitat, making it even more likely to see more grizzly bears killed.

Bad Cop FWS: “…but it doesn’t matter.”

Somehow, despite the significant and permanent damage the proposed Montanore Mine would have on bull trout, grizzly bears, and bull trout critical habitat, FWS approved the project. In its findings, the agency laid out strikes against the mine and the danger of local extinctions for bull trout and grizzly bears. Then FWS pulled a complete about-face and concluded that the project wouldn’t jeopardize the species or critical habitat. It claimed that the effects of the mine, though severe, would only impact a select few bull trout populations, making the pollution and reduced streamflows too localized to matter to the species as a whole. Even more surprising, FWS concluded that the project could benefit grizzly bears, somehow making them better off than before. Since Montanore Mine would usher in hundreds of people to a remote landscape, the company behind the operation promised to fund efforts to educate the public about bears and minimize the conflicts between humans and grizzlies. Often these conflicts result in bears being killed or relocated. It is true that grizzly bear conflicts can often be avoided with a combination of specific tools and public outreach. In fact, Defenders has spent years doing just that in this region. But when weighed in the balance, these strategies will not be able to offset the significant impact and added risk of a massive new mine. Even without the mine, an average of one grizzly bear dies each year due to interactions with humans.

In June, Defenders joined forces with other conservation groups and filed suit against FWS’ approval of the mine. In its conclusion, FWS states the mine could extinguish the bull trout population and displace female grizzly bears, but in the same breath, gives the project approval to move forward. There is simply no evidence to support the agency’s decision. In fact, its own findings contradict the decision entirely! To protect threatened bull trout and grizzly bears, we’re taking FWS to court to fulfill its duty. These imperiled species deserve to have their habitat stay pure and wild, not polluted and invaded.

A Win for Wildlife

In the Southwest, a recent win in court halted a mining project that would have put ocelots, jaguars, Mexican spotted owls and other wildlife in danger.

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24 Responses to “The Menace of Montanore Mine”

  1. Rags

    This is terrible. How could people even consider doing this, toady a proposed mine tomorrow a proposed nuclear weapons testing area for the war over land because of over population.

    • Darla Daniel-Seabolt

      This is getting to be an every day effort! Why don’t they listen to you or the public? These species won’t be around if they don’t listen, all are for the environment and the good of everyone. Humans are just destroying this planet, they need to wake up to what’s important!!

    • charles caron

      The National Forest in Alaska is finishing the destruction of 6000 acres of old growth timber on Prince of Wales island (Big Thorne Project). We have no presidential candidate with an environmental agenda. Are we truly a nation of Consumers with no concept of Sustainability for our future? Will we consume everything? Where is the media reporting such environmental issues? All of our environmental activists must collaborate if we are to preserve our wild and special places. Lets start with an end to cutting old growth forests.

  2. Jeffrey Robinson

    The only reason the FWS is showing the adverse affects the mine would have on the trout and bears, the entire environment, and then saying it’s ok to mine is “Greed, monetary gain for them, kick backs from the mining company, and they could care less about nature”! Money rules them, the same with greedy companies and politicians, those monsters are born to destroy, destruct, pollute,poison, kill, and infect all and everything in nature for money!

  3. Nymph Kellerman

    This is so shocking, disgusting, unacceptable… I do not have the right words for this. How can they do this? Especially with a possible sixth mass extinction coming up with conservationists working their buds off to prevent it? Do they really not realize how important it is to save habitat? Do they not know yet that we are ALL in trouble already?

  4. Malijonze

    Nothing on this earth is sacred anymore. Not human life. Not wildlife. Not the environment. Oh. Wait. I forgot about money! Money is sacred. So peeps can have bigger cars. And bigger houses. And the newest fashions. Yeah that’s it. Let’s kill everything so we can eat money.

  5. Lisa Griffin

    If people can make a difference, its time to step up! Look at #Shell. Make a difference

  6. Jerry Freudenburg

    So how do I make a difference and get this stopped?. Every Email , petition, phone call or actual letter I write seems to get ignored or sent back unopened and unread. I want to be able to do something that gets me heard. please let me know what to do.

    • Defenders of Wildlife

      Jerry, thank you for being so passionate about this. We are fighting the decision in court so there’s nothing to sign or number to call at the moment, but we appreciate the support and we’ll be sure to let you and others know if there’s an opportunity for that in the future. In the meantime, continue to share this information with others to spread the word!

  7. Deborah Reeves

    Thank you for continuing to fight for wildlife.They need to be protected from greedy humans.

  8. Margret Shearier

    Sustainable. That needs to be our motto. No more decimating our earth.
    I really wish we humans would go extinct. Things may be problematic for awhile for our wildlife brethren, but they would be better off very soon.
    We have NEVER been smart enough to take care of this planet, except for a few enlightened groups. I.e. the Native Americans. We have never allowed Natural Selection do it’s job. We just rape & pillage land, resources. Other (weaker), humans. We exploit not heal.
    We are at least 4 billion too many right now, this planet is not made to hold this many of any species, let alone the most decimating.
    We need to go.!!!!!!!!

  9. Cathy

    I want all of our wildlife to be here for my grandchildren & all future generations!

  10. nm hoover

    this is outrageous… these animals belong to the people and no one checked with

    me for approval… how about you? did you approve of this? I bet not!

    so without our say so they can’t do this? so I would assume these actions are


  11. Judith Passmore

    How do we show these people that we are ALL part of an ecoSYSTEM!? We can’t kill off species of animals and insects, change the DNA of plants so they can’t reproduce, foul our air and water – and soil, drain the planet of all non-renewable energy materials, etc., etc., and NOT destroy ourselves. Corporate / individual $profit$ seems to be the only measure of value. What on earth will they do with all the money when they are ill and cannot reproduce and when there is no beautiful beach to party on….etc. It makes me so sad to see the short-sightedness of it all.

  12. Deborah

    Knowing the devastation this will have and the abrupt mind change to allow it well………….sounds like some bribery took place

  13. Leslie Diamond

    I am so saddened and infuriated that all animals, all wildlife are not being protected and that agencies, knowing how dangerous these threats are to animal habitats choose to go forward anyway with no regard to the damage done. What is wrong with our priorities … these incredible gifts to our world should be revered and protected. Humans suck! Everything is money first with no regard to the environment of humans or animals. It’s disgusting, saddening, frightening and must be changed … it’s the humane, decent thing to do.

  14. Betty Stewart

    Keep it up, Fish and Wildlife – when you’ve let all the fish and animals die off, you’ll all be out of jobs.

  15. Barbara

    And as soon as the powers that be are done deciding who lives and who dies in the animal kingdom; they’ll turn they’re bloodlust to the human population. If they haven’t already. It’s time for conservation organizations to start banding together. From Sea Sheperd to the local humane society and from Defenders of Wildlife to Big Cat Rescue; people need to start realizing it’s not just one species or area in peril. We all are.

  16. Maggie Frazier

    I guess now we in the US, like in Africa, agree that you can do more for conservation by KILLING animals, than by preventing their eradication! Between the BLM (regarding wild horses & burros) and the FWS (regarding almost everything else!) we dont really need any other form of “management” of our wild animals!

  17. Sharon

    Every agency within the US government that has anything to do with ‘our’ wildlife is corrupt and out-of-control. They care nothing about protecting our magnificent animals/wildlife that roam the lands of this country and care less about the preservation of their habitats. These agencies are bought-and-paid-for by mining industries, big oil companies, logging industries, wealthy cattle and sheep ranchers (big-ag), hunters (of animals/wildlife they will not/cannot eat) and, the list goes on. If any type of wildlife happen to be ‘in the way’, the animals are targeted for removal by ‘any means’, their rightful habitats destroyed or taken from them. These agencies wouldn’t blink an eye if every living (non-human) animal became extinct. They’re already well on their way to doing just that. I have no great-grandchildren, but the way in which these agencies are quickly eradicating our wildlife, their habitats and giving away their rightful lands, they may see our beautiful animals/wildlife in a photo from a book. They receive no protection from the very agencies that are supposed to ensure their survival. Our government caters to lobbyists and special interest groups. Unfortunately, greedy corporations, industries and big-ag make the laws in this country. Sadly, our beautiful animals/wildlife do not stand a chance.

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