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Suit Filed to Protect Bull Trout, Grizzlies in the Cabinets

Three conservation groups have filed suit over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of a proposed copper and silver mine in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, on the grounds the development would harm endangered bull trout and grizzly bears. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Three conservation groups have filed suit over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of a proposed copper and silver mine in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, on the grounds the development would harm endangered bull trout and grizzly bears. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
June 18, 2015

MISSOULA, Mont. – Plans to mine and process 20,000 tons of silver and copper every day in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness are being challenged by a coalition of conservation groups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the proposed Montanore Mine would inflict substantial and irreversible damage to the region's fragile bull trout and grizzly bear populations – but gave a green light to the mine anyway.

Represented by Earthjustice, the organizations Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and Defenders of Wildlife filed the suit in federal district court.

According to attorney Katherine O'Brien, the proposed mining site is part of a vast swath of undeveloped public lands and wilderness – all critical habitat for the endangered species.

"The mine presents a real risk of tipping very small, very vulnerable populations of bull trout and grizzly bears over the edge," she says.

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded the effects on bull trout would be too localized to make a difference, and that development would benefit grizzly bears because the mining company has promised to pay for education about the bears.

O'Brien says the Fish and Wildlife Service had no basis to conclude that turning habitat into an industrial mining site would help endangered species recover. She adds that while conflict reduction education can be helpful to minimize situations that lead to the deaths of grizzly bears, there's no evidence that education would neutralize the risks posed by the mine.

"There's expected to be an influx of more than 800 people into the heart of grizzly bear habitat, which presents very substantial risks that grizzly bears will be killed," she says.

The suit challenges the final biological opinion issued by Fish and Wildlife. The mine also has to be approved by the state and the U.S. Forest Service. Under the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act, mining companies do have the right to develop claims.

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is one of the original Wilderness areas established under the landmark 1964 law.

Deborah Courson Smith/Tommy Hough, Public News Service - MT