By John Hooks MONTANA PUBLIC RADIO
The U.S. Forest Service has approved a plan by a pair of mining exploration companies to continue preliminary surveys in the southern Bitterroot valley. The companies believe there may be a deposit of rare earth minerals at the site.
The Bitterroot National Forest announced on May 30 they had approved the companies’ planned exploration activities, and determined they were not extensive enough to require further scrutiny of environmental impacts at this time.
The plans are laid out in a Notice of Intent and detail a continuation of exploration carried out last year. The companies will sample soils, stream sediments, and rock chips on the surface and continue mapping and geophysical surveying of the site. The U.S. Geological Survey will assist with aerial surveys.
No mechanized tools will be used in the exploration work, which is permitted until Oct. 1, 2023. That means no core sampling or drilling will occur.
The Bitterroot National Forest said the proposed plans were not likely to cause significant resource disturbances, which would trigger a further round of permitting application and environmental review.
The companies say they believe a deposit of rare earth elements lies at the site. Rare earths are used in the production of computer chips, electric car batteries, and other high tech products. Experts caution that years of exploration are still required to determine if that claim is true, and environmentalists have expressed concern over the potential impacts of mining in the area.
The site is located in the southwestern corner of Montana in Ravalli County, in the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River approximately 38 miles south of Darby.