MISSOULA, MT (July 23, 2015) – In its response to concerns raised by conservation groups and local landowners about the Montanore Mine in northwest Montana, the Regional Office of the U.S. Forest Service yesterday acknowledged that there are numerous and serious deficiencies in the agency’s environmental review of the copper-silver mine proposed for development underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
On July 22, 2015, Deputy Regional Forester David Schmid issued his decision responding to objections filed by three conservation groups and local landowners. The new decision identified significant deficiencies in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared by the Kootenai National Forest, including failure to properly analyze the serious impacts to streamflows, water quality, water rights, and the native fish that rely on cold and clean wilderness rivers and streams.
According to Mary Costello of Save Our Cabinets, “The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness deserves the highest protection we can give any public lands. So we’re heartened that the Forest Service recognizes it has a lot of work to do get a full picture of this mine’s potential for long-lasting and damaging impacts to the area.”
In response to the conservation groups’ objections, the Forest Service acknowledged that the FEIS:
- Does not clearly disclose how mine dewatering will affect Outstanding Resource Waters in Wilderness.
- Does not clearly disclose if the project will affect senior in-stream flow, domestic, mining, and stock water rights, and what those effects might be.
- Does not disclose the cumulative impacts of other projects proposed for the area, including the potential effects on aquatic species of the Rock Creek Mine on the other side of the Cabinet Mountains.
- Fails to evaluate the feasibility or efficacy of the bull trout mitigation plan.
- Needs to evaluate how the mine will affect springs or seeps in the tailings impoundment footprint.
- Needs to further disclose the project’s effects on groundwater and bull trout habitat.
- Does not clearly disclose the project’s potential impacts for sedimentation to all impaired water bodies within the analysis area.
In the agency response letter, the Deputy Regional Forester ordered Kootenai Forest officials to collect additional information to fill these gaps and revise the deficient FEIS.
However despite the fundamental flaws in the FEIS and the order for new analysis, the agency response letter concluded that the mine fully complies with all applicable environmental requirements.
Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition, called the response letter “a mixed bag.”
“On the one hand,” she said, “the Forest Service is acknowledging that the analysis of the project’s impacts is deficient. But on the other hand, the agency seems to be saying that the mine will get the green light, regardless of what we learn about impacts to wilderness streams and water rights. It’s perplexing to say the least.”
“These are very serious deficiencies,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. “The Forest Service has put the cart before the horse in drawing a conclusion before all the impacts have been determined.”
The Draft Record of Decision for the Montanore Mine was released in March 2015, approving the project and triggering the objections process. Objections were filed by Save Our Cabinets, the Clark Fork Coalition, and Earthworks. A final Record of Decision will be issued by Forest Service once instructed changes have been made.