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Digging Up Our Natural Heritage

WITHIN two miles of Yellowstone National Park's northeastern boundary, a Canadian gold company, Noranda Minerals, and its subsidiaries, Hemlo Gold and Crown Butte Mines, are proposing a mine that will threaten many of the natural resources that border on America's "crown jewel" of public lands.The United States Treasury will receive no royalties from this development, and it will cost the extractors only $5 an acre to gain patents for this land. The General Mining Act of 1872 does not provide full citizen participation in the process for granting mining permits, nor does it include federal reclamation standards. The so-called New World Project - sited two miles north of Cooke City, Mont., and adjacent to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness - threatens water quality in three major drainages: the Stillwater River; the wild and scenic Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River; and Soda Butte Creek, which flows into Yellowstone Park. It jeopardizes the threatened grizzly bear and will displace elk, deer, and moose. It imperils multiple-use recreation and our vital tourist economy. The mining industry could hardly select a more difficult site for a gold mine. The mining area is located between 9,000 and 11,000 feet and receives as much as 300 inches of snow yearly. It is subject to destructive avalanches and earthquakes and contains critical wetlands. The development imposes serious problems on a small locale that has only 70 year-round residents and no infrastructure to support 300 construction workers and 140 permanent workers and their families. Given these formidable problems, how can this company guarantee successful reclamation, non-degradation of water, and the existing quality of life? I have lived in Cooke City for 17 years, have owned a general store with my husband for 14 years, and have been fishing in the lakes and streams since I was a young girl. This is my home. I have always appreciated the lack of crime in my community, the unhurried pace of life for many months each year, the sense of community that small towns engender, and the incredible, majestic beauty that surrounds me. Out my front window I can watch herds of elk play and deer and moose nurture their young. I enjoy knowing that black and grizzly bears may have walked by outside while I slept. I drink crystal-clear, ice-cold water from my tap, inhale the fragrance of pine, and marvel at the variety of wildflowers and berries. This proposed mine threatens the way of life I have chosen. What might Americans receive from this development on their public lands? As you travel to Yellowstone Park you can expect more congestion from vehicles moving workers, building supplies, cyanide, fuel, explosives, and ore to and from the site. You can expect more noise and dust from earthmovers reducing a mountain to a pile of potentially toxic rubble, as well as a 160-acre tailings impoundment containing cyanide-treated waste. You can expect to see less wildlife and be denied recreational access for snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, or taking a jeep ride. You will see a major industrial site where, 365 days a year for up to 20 years, 1,000 tons of ore a day will be processed in an area that now is utilized for only recreational, watershed, and wildlife values. Is this what the public wants its government agencies and Noranda to do to publicly owned lands next to Yellowstone Park? Some of the most vulnerable, wild, free, and open spaces that comprise part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem are about to be exploited by a Canadian company for a pot of gold. I wonder if this is the experience Americans envisage for their trip to Yellowstone or the destiny they want for these wild lands. The continued supremacy of mining in public-lands planning must not be allowed to intrude on special places, leaving scars and potential Superfund sites. The 1872 mining law benefits powerful private concerns, and federal policy fails to suitably guard our public wealth.

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