Agreement to Purchase Mining Claims Near Yellowstone (MT)
BOZEMAN, Montana, 3/17/2008: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced today that they have worked out an agreement to protect almost 1,500 acres of private mining claims located in the New World Mining District just outside of Yellowstone National Park. Under the plan, which depends upon Congressional funding, TPL will purchase these spectacular natural lands and convey them to the USFS for public enjoyment.
“This is an example of the best kind of Montana compromise: land owners rights are respected, and we get to preserve some of the most beautiful hunting, fishing and hiking land on earth,” said Montana’s Senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus. “This resolution means the land will be just as pristine and beautiful for our grandchildren as it was for our grandfathers. And that means more tourist dollars from the folks who come to see it and more jobs for the folks that live here.”
“This move literally lays the groundwork for more prime backcountry for all Montanans to enjoy,” said U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a longtime advocate of public land access. “This is great news for Yellowstone and the surrounding area. The Reeb and Holland families along with TPL deserve credit for working together to protect this area.”
“Montana’s diverse recreational opportunities are part of what makes our state so great,” said U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg. “This agreement is good first step in helping expand those opportunities in the future. I applaud the cooperative work of all of those involved in moving this project forward.”
If those efforts succeed, this purchase will end one of the major national environmental disputes of the 1990s. The story began in 1989 when Crown Butte Mines, a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Noranda, Inc., proposed a massive gold mine next to one of America’s most pristine wilderness areas and located just northeast of Yellowstone National Park. The plan triggered a battery of lawsuits and condemnation from conservation groups, who warned that a mine upstream from Yellowstone would adversely affect the park’s ecosystem. Even the United Nations recognized the threat, placing Yellowstone on its list of “In Danger” World Heritage Sites. But in 1996, there was a peaceful resolution. In exchange for $65 million in federal land and other assets, the mining company agreed to abandon its plans to mine and create a $22.5 million dollar fund to clean up the mess that had been left behind by past mining operations.
This sounded like a win-win solution, but there was a flaw in the deal. A retired Livingston, Montana schoolteacher named Margaret Reeb, who owned most of the claims that Crown Butte had the right to mine and wanted to hand over to the U.S. government, was not part of the negotiations, and she did not want to sell. But eventually, Ms. Reeb agreed not to mine the land. She continued to own the land and claims until she died in 2005.
Ms. Reeb’s heirs, nephews Mike and Randy Holland, believe that the agreement with TPL honors the wishes of their late aunt. “My brother and I love that land just as much as Margaret did, and we don’t want to see its raw beauty tarnished with buildings and trophy homes scattered about,” said Mike Holland.
Today, reclamation has brought back the health and beauty of the old mining sites. But, these days, the land is threatened less by the prospect of a mine than by piecemeal development into subdivisions and second homes. And though such intrusion doesn’t result in toxic mine waste, it can be just as damaging to wildlife and the public.
“This pure slice of Yellowstone country is one of the few places where grizzlies, wolves, lynx, elk and moose still thrive in spectacular numbers. Federal ownership of this land will ensure that the public will be able to enjoy the breathtaking wilderness views and the boundless opportunities the land offers for outdoor fun, whether on foot, horse, snowmobile or with fly rod in hand,” said Will Rogers, TPL President.
Under the agreement, TPL has the right to purchase the land and mining claims over a two-year period and to convey them to the United States for inclusion in the Gallatin and Custer National Forests. The federal funds would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Trust for Public Land is a leading national non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people. TPL works with willing landowners, community groups and public partners to complete more than $500 million of conservation annually and has protected nearly 2.3 million acres since 1972.
TPL Montana has offices in Bozeman and Helena and is on the worldwide web at www.tpl.org/montana.