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Emigrant Peak

Emigrant Peak rises above the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley. Emigrant Gulch, on the left side of the peak, is one of the areas that had been proposed for mining exploration.

Time is running out on legal protection for public land in Montana’s Paradise Valley.

Last Friday, the U.S. Forest Service approved a long-awaited proposal to deny mining permits on federal land near Emigrant Peak about 20 miles south of Livingston and at Crevice Mountain just outside the Yellowstone Park border east of Gardiner. The Forest Service completed an environmental assessment on the mineral withdrawal earlier this spring.

With the Forest Service endorsement, it’s Ryan Zinke’s decision on protecting these 30,000 public acres near the upper Yellowstone River and Yellowstone National Park. Zinke’s predecessor at the U.S. Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, ordered a two-year pause on mineral leasing on these lands in response to local residents and businesses demanding protection from potential large gold mines. Two mining companies with foreign owners or investors have sought permits to explore for ore in these Paradise Valley locations. Jewell’s order expires on Nov. 22.

Zinke should extend the mineral withdrawal for the maximum length of 20 years. He spoke in favor of protecting these Yellowstone Gateway public lands when he was Montana’s sole congressman and has reiterated his support for mineral withdrawal since becoming secretary of the Interior Department.

We call on Zinke to use his authority to protect the Paradise Valley landscape for the agriculture, recreation, tourism and quality of life that make it so much more valuable than gold. Zinke has said he supports the mineral withdrawal. He should make it happen before Nov. 22.

As Gazette readers know, Park County folks have been working on multiple fronts to keep public land from being mined along Yellowstone’s northern gateway. Both Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte have introduced virtually identical Yellowstone Gateway permanent protection bills. Only Congress can permanently withdraw these federal minerals from mine leasing.

Although Tester’s bill had a hearing 14 months ago in a Senate committee that Daines chairs, Daines has so far blocked the bill.

In a press release Friday, Daines’ office said he “is committed to passing the bill out of committee at the next committee meeting.”

The committee website lists a hearing today on an unrelated bill, but no business meeting has been scheduled since Aug. 23.

Colin Davis, a founding member of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, thanked the Forest Service for listening “to overwhelming public sentiment” and urged Zinke to finalize the protection before Nov. 21.

Davis also asked “our congressional delegation to permanently put this issue to rest by passing the Yellowstone Gateway Act into law.”

So far Daines is all talk and no action. Tester and Gianforte have already put their constituents’ request into legislation. With Daines’ support, those public lands would already have been protected. Yellowstone Gateway protection won’t become permanent in this Congress unless our GOP senator acts. Montanans are watching what Daines does — not only what he says about Paradise Valley.

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