Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies is challenging a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) to approve a mining company’s plan to change a two-track primitive road in the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area to an industrial-strength road so a gold-mining company can run an estimated 25 ore trucks a week from the defunct Golconda mine.
“When Congress designated this Wildlife Management Area, wildlife were to be given priority over other uses such as industrial right-of-way for mining,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “The Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area provides crucial habitat for one of the healthiest elk herds in the state and the lower elevations of the Elkhorns provide critical winter range for mule deer and pronghorn antelope as well as elk.”
“With over 70 percent of the Elkhorn’s 300,000 acres in public ownership by the Forest Service, BLM, and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, it provides a vital migration corridor that links the Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Continental Divide, the Gravelly Mountains, the Tobacco Root Mountains, the Belt Mountains, and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem,” Garrity explained. “This linkage is vital for both movement of and genetic exchange between dispersed wildlife populations. With almost 70 percent of the BLM-managed lands in the Elkhorn Mountains described as ‘core’ area for migrating grizzly bears it is essential to the recovery of the lynx and the grizzly bear that this area not be turned into an industrial transportation route.”
“The Elkhorns are especially known for the beauty and productivity of the plentiful mountain meadows and grassy parks. Industrial ore routes are simply not compatible with wildlife management areas and healthy elk habitat,” Garrity said. “More than 7,000 hunters put in for the coveted 110 bull elk permits allowed here. This is because of the monumental efforts put forth by Montanans to protect this area. Since 1992 the BLM, Forest Service and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks have cooperated in the management of the area with outstanding success. Today, more people apply for the HD 380 either-sex elk permit than any other permit in Montana. The Elkhorns are a revered area in the Montana countryside.”
This lawsuit challenges the BLM’s July approval of a Right-of-Way across federal public land to Smith Contracting, Inc., of Butte, Montana. The Right-of-Way authorizes Smith to turn an unimproved two-track dirt road into a major industrial mine ore haul route in order for Smith to operate the former Golconda Mine, now renamed the Golden Asset Mine. The mine haul route would run down Troy Creek Road, also known as Captain Billy Gulch Road, a two track trail which runs east into the Elkhorns after passing under the interstate 3.3 miles south of Jefferson City, MT. The Golden Asset Mine is in Golconda Gulch about 4 miles east of Interstate 15 in the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area.
“The BLM’s environmental assessment was severely deficient,” Garrity said. “Besides violating the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency ignored the requirements of its cooperative agreement with the Forest Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as contained in the Resource Management Plan.”
“The Golconda Mine was a cyanide heap leach mine that shut down after a dam broke and dumped cyanide-laden water and tailings down the drainage,” Garrity explained. “The BLM simply ignored the environmental consequences of that spill and the remaining toxic by-products that could be transported by the new mining company. The agency also violated the 14-year old Elkhorns Cooperative Management Area Memorandum of Understanding between the state and federal agencies that specifically requires that “travel management emphasizes the protection of soil, water, vegetation, and wildlife.”
“The BLM did a shoddy and incomplete job of the Environmental Assessment upon which the approval of the right-of-way was granted,” Garrity concluded. “The Elkhorns are simply too great an asset to Montanans to allow significant impacts solely to benefit a single mining company, especially one whose plans for their activities are ill-defined and in flux. We continue to live with the environmental impacts of mining all over the state. We are taking the BLM to court to halt further mining impacts and save the incredible Elkhorns for present and future generations of Montanans.”