EMIGRANT, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approved a 20-year ban on new mining claims in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park on Monday, after two proposed gold mines raised concerns the area could be spoiled.
Zinke signed the mineral ban at an outdoors ceremony in Montana’s Paradise Valley, with Emigrant Peak rising in the background. The former Montana congressman was joined by local officials, business owners and others who support the move.
“There are places where it is appropriate to mine and places where it is not,” Zinke said in a statement. “Paradise Valley is one of the areas it’s not.”
The rocky peaks and forested stream valleys covered by the ban attract skiers, hikers and other recreational users. It’s an area where grizzly bears, wolves and other wildlife roam back and forth across the Yellowstone border. The scars of historical mining still are visible on some hillsides.
Mining companies and industry representatives say the Emigrant and Crevice areas are historical mining districts and opposed any halt to new exploration.
The ban extends a temporary ban imposed in 2016 under former President Barack Obama on new claims for gold, silver and other minerals on 30,000 acres of public lands in the Paradise Valley and Gardiner Basin.
Most of the land is within the Custer Gallatin National Forest, but the underground minerals are overseen by the Interior Department.
Monday’s action does not stop mining on private land or take away pre-existing mining claims on public lands. But supporters said it would make a large-scale mine in the area much less likely because public lands would be needed to make such a project economically feasible.
The administration’s support for the ban is notable given President Donald Trump’s outspoken advocacy for the mining industry and his criticism of government regulations said to stifle economic development.
The proposal has received bipartisan backing in Montana, where Democrats and Republicans alike have been eager to cast themselves as protectors of the natural beauty of the Yellowstone region.
Colin Davis with the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition says his group will now focus on making the ban permanent through pending measures in Congress.
“Our eye is still on permanent legislation,” said Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort. “The prize is permanent legislation so we’re not doing this again in 20 years.”
The House Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 26 approved permanent withdrawal legislation sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved identical legislation from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester last week.