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Yellowstone Border Purchase Stops Gold Mine From Infringing on Bear Habitat

Scott Christensen was standing on a mountain looking down into Yellowstone National Park late last month when he spotted a fresh track from a grizzly bear within the mud, about two inches in front of his foot. He wasn’t scared, but relatively relieved and gratified.

The bear, in addition to other wildlife, including the hundreds of elk that migrate through the world, would have the opportunity to maintain roaming on the side of the mountain, often called Crevice Mountain, as an alternative of ceding territory to heavy machinery and miners searching for gold.

Mr. Christensen, the chief director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation group, spotted the bear track on Sept. 25, just hours after the coalition purchased 1,598 acres of the mountainous property in Montana from an organization that had planned to construct a gold mine there.

Access to the land and its mineral rights had cost $6.25 million, and the acquisition extinguished what Mr. Christensen said was the last viable mining threat on the boundaries of Yellowstone.

“It was a protracted and difficult road of negotiations to get there,” Mr. Christensen said. “But it led to what I have a look at as an actual win-win solution for the park and all of us who care deeply about it.”

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition bought the mineral rights and access to the land since it was concerned that mining would harm wildlife and water quality in the world, which overlooks the Yellowstone River and the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The land is a habitat for grizzly bears and a migration corridor for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep. Bison from Yellowstone’s herd roam there.

The region has also attracted gold mining because the 1850s.

In 2015, the owner of the mineral rights to Crevice Mountain, Crevice Mining Group LLC, submitted an application to dig on the land. Michael Werner, the corporate’s sole proprietor, said he had received a $12.5 million loan to construct there. “We were going to mine 300 ton a day and produce almost half an oz of gold per ton, which is de facto high for many operations,” he said.

At the identical time that Crevice introduced its plan for the positioning, a separate mining proposal was submitted for a location just a few miles north, called Emigrant Gulch, in Paradise Valley.

Both of those efforts faced opposition from environmental groups and residents concerned about the environmental impact and its potential damage to the local economy. Lawmakers took steps to guard the land temporarily. But to have the mineral rights in the world permanently withdrawn, Congress would wish to intervene.

That happened, not less than partially, in 2019, when the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act permanently withdrew mineral rights to 30,000 acres of public land near Yellowstone, shuttering the Emigrant Gulch project. The land on Crevice Mountain, nonetheless, was exempt from the laws since it was mostly private land.

The coalition, trying to find an answer, asked Mr. Werner if he would sell it the mineral rights to the land. Mr. Werner said that if the coalition had asked him 10 years earlier, he would have declined, but he was getting older and appreciated the “skilled” manner of a negotiator from the coalition, Joe Josephson. “We were in a position to come to an understanding of what needed to be done,” he said.

The coalition signed an agreement with Crevice Mining on Oct. 1, 2021, to buy the land’s mineral rights sometime in the following two years.

The agreement was a big win for the coalition, but it surely can be a challenge to finish. That was since the deal, as Mr. Christensen put it, was a “leap of religion” that required the group to lift greater than twice as much money because it had ever raised in a two-year period. He thought at many points that the plan would collapse.

This spring, because the Oct. 1 deadline neared, the coalition was about halfway to its goal, having received donations from philanthropic groups. It began a public fund-raising campaign in May to shut the multimillion-dollar gap, and received 1,345 donations from people in 47 states and 7 countries.

In late September, Mr. Christensen signed the paperwork for the acquisition, which ceded a combination of underground mineral rights and mineral claims on private and non-private land to the conservation group.

“I feel everybody who loves Yellowstone and this a part of the world owns this victory,” Mr. Christensen said.

It will take years to show all the acreage from property marked for mining into land owned by the general public, but within the meantime the grizzlies and their cubs can keep crossing it.

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