Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 2, 2017

Contacts:  Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks, (406) 546-8386,
Karen Knudsen, Clark Fork Coalition, (406) 542-0539,
Mary Costello, Rock Creek Alliance, (208) 610-4896,
Jonathan Proctor, Defenders of Wildlife, (720) 943-0451,
Andrea Santarsiere, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 854-7748,

Forest Service Rescinds Approval for Rock Creek Mine Plan

Legal Flaws, Uncertainties Plague Hecla's Proposal

MISSOULA, Mont.— The Forest Service has just announced that it will withhold a permit for full development of the proposed Rock Creek Mine, one of two copper/silver mines Coeur D’Alene-based Hecla Mining Company is pursuing under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Citing objections filed by a coalition of conservation groups, the Forest Service will only allow preliminary explorations of the site to proceed. A new decision will be required for any further activities.

The decision reverses an earlier Forest Service Draft Record of Decision that approved the full mine plan. The Forest Service found that the proposal lacked sufficient information to evaluate environmental impacts on one of the nation’s original wilderness areas and the invaluable water and wildlife resources found there. Other concerns included the impacts on nearby domestic water supplies, potential seepage of toxic metals into groundwater and sediment pollution in important trout streams.

This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Rock Creek Mine. Last week the conservation coalition called on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to suspend state permits for the Rock Creek Mine and Hecla’s proposed Montanore Mine, because Hecla is prohibited from mining in Montana pursuant to the state’s “bad actor” provisions. The “bad actor” provisions prohibit individuals whose former companies failed to complete required mine reclamation from undertaking new mining projects in the state — unless they pay the state back, with interest, for reclamation carried out at public expense and rectify reclamation failures at their old mines.

Hecla President and CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr. previously served as a top officer of Pegasus Gold Incorporated, which went bankrupt in the 1990s and left the public on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs at the company’s infamous Zortman-Landusky, Basin Creek and Beal Mountain mines.

“All the evidence to date shows that these mines cannot be excavated under the Wilderness without lasting harm to the overlying streams and the fish and wildlife that find refuge there,” said Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director for Earthworks, who welcomed the news that the Forest Service had reversed course. “That’s something the agency simply can’t ignore.”

Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition, said her group is encouraged by the Forest Service’s action. “The last thing anyone wants to see on public lands is another mining mess causing irreversible harm and costing taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up.”

“These wilderness streams provide important refuge for native bull trout,” said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We don’t want to see decades of recovery efforts in the Lower Clark Fork jeopardized by an ill-conceived mine plan.”

“This mine would be a disaster for the small population of grizzly bears that inhabit the Cabinet Mountains,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are glad to hear that the Forest Service is taking a step back to consider the damage this mine may cause.”

“While we are pleased that the Forest Service will not permit the full mine, allowing the first phase of the mine to proceed would needlessly jeopardize wilderness waters and threatened bull trout and grizzly bears for the development of a mine that the agency recognizes cannot meet federal and state laws,” said Mary Costello, executive director of the Rock Creek Alliance.

“Our imperiled fish and wildlife depend on the clean water and intact habitat the Cabinet Mountains provide,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “Bull trout and grizzly bears are simply too valuable to lose. This decision may give them a chance to remain.”

“The tiny Cabinet grizzly bear population is hanging on by a thread,” said Bonnie Rice, Northern Rockies senior representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We’re glad the Forest Service realized it needs to take a step back, but allowing any part of the mine to move forward poses too great a risk to this extremely vulnerable population as well as other threatened species and our public lands.”

More press releases