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Public lands package prohibits mining; reauthorizes conservation fund

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30,000 acres of public land are now permanently off limits to mining as a part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. NPS PHOTO

By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR

LIVINGSTON – From the top of Crevice Mountain, located just east of Gardiner and adjacent to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you can see roughly one-third of Yellowstone National Park. You can also see the Yellowstone River, and Caroline Byrd suspects that with a really good throw, you could probably land a rock in it.

“It’s just stunning,” Byrd said of the landscape. Byrd is the executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Beyond its scenic power, she added that Crevice lies along an important migration corridor for Yellowstone’s northern elk herd and that the area provides important tributaries to the Yellowstone River.

In recent years, land on Crevice and a portion of Emigrant Peak was included in a gold mining proposal that elicited opposition from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition as well as more than 400 local businesses that comprise the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition. While Emigrant and Crevice have historic patented mining claims, the recent proposal was for mining on public ground.

“Imagine a steady stream of ore trucks going right up Chico [Hot Springs’] driveway. Imagine them ripping apart the mountain and poisoning the water,” Byrd said, adding that the destruction would be the result of a particular type of mining used to extract gold. “You can’t just say no mining anywhere, [but] these are not good places for mines.”

The result of four years of opposition, Crevice Mountain is among 30,000 acres of public land that is now permanently off limits to mining as a part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. Formerly named the Natural Resources Management Act, it includes conservation measures that affect the entire nation and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 12.

A package of numerous land and water conservation bills bundled together in a lengthy 700 pages, the act was passed by the U.S. Congress on Feb. 26, with a 363-53 vote in the House and 92-8 in the Senate.

For Montana, this public-lands bill’s effect is two-fold. In addition to permanently withdrawing land adjacent to Yellowstone’s northern boundary from mining activity, it also permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been used to purchase city parks, public lands and access sites across the state, and expired last October.

“If you enjoy the outdoors, if you enjoy community trails, if you enjoy community playgrounds, if you enjoy recreation acres, if you think forest management is important, then you have probably benefited by the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Glenn Marx, the executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “It has made the Montana way of life better.”

Established in 1964 to safeguard natural resources, the fund has provided Montana with nearly $600 million to protect open spaces, preserve historic sites, improve recreational access and assist with forest management. In addition to expanding community trail systems in the Gallatin Valley, the funds have allowed for the purchase of 165 of Montana’s fishing access sites, and helped consolidate public lands in the Gallatin Range.

“That is just major bipartisan support for what most people agree is the country’s premier conservation program,” Marx said of the permanent reauthorization.

He said that with the funding becoming available soon, land trusts within the state as well as agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will develop proposals for LWCF projects, and Montana could see as much as $23 million in 2019.

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