Final Chapter of New World Mine Controversy Complete

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced today the purchase of 772 acres of mining claims in the New World Mining District near Yellowstone National Park, a move which finally ends one of the best-known land use battles of the 1990’s.

The mining claims were bought from the nephews of the late Margaret Reeb, a retired Livingston, Montana schoolteacher, who had owned many of the underground mineral rights at the heart of the controversy. Last year, Mrs. Reeb’s nephews separately sold 696 acres for public ownership, also as part of the national forest.

“This is Montana’s outdoor heritage as well as creating good paying jobs,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I worked hard to find federal funding for this land because Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone River bring in millions in tourist dollars to Montana every single year- and we can’t afford to compromise that. Yellowstone is our nation’s first national park and a truly a national treasure. I believe we’ve got to leave this place better than when we found it, and that means standing up for places like Yellowstone.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said, “This is good news for Montana’s outdoor heritage, and it’s thanks to the hard work of folks on all sides of the issue. Folks in Montana can now be more confident that the places we treasure, like Yellowstone and the lands that surround it, will be protected for our kids and grandkids.”

A total of $8 million was secured for the two-year purchase from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the primary funding source for land acquisitions within established federal units.. The appraised value for all 1,468 acres of the mining claims was $9 million. U.S. Senators Max Maucus and Jon Tester, with the support of TPL and the USFS, worked to secure the federal funding from the LWCF to protect the mining claims.

The dispute over the New World Mining District began in 1989 when Crown Butte Mines, a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Noranda, Inc., proposed building a massive gold mine near Cooke City, just northeast of Yellowstone National Park. The plan triggered a battery of lawsuits and outrage from conservation groups, who warned that a mine upstream from Yellowstone would adversely affect the park’s waterways and ecosystem. Even the United Nations recognized the threat, citing the proposed mine as the reason for placing Yellowstone on its list of “In Danger” World Heritage Sites.

In 1996, a solution was announced. In exchange for $65 million in federal land and other assets, the mining company agreed to abandon its plans and create a $22.5 million fund to clean up the mess that had been left behind by past mining operations.

But the proposed settlement was crafted without the input of Ms. 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 as part of the deal. Ms. Reeb steadfastly refused to sell, but she eventually entered into an agreement effectively guaranteeing that her claims would not be mined. Ms. Reeb owned the claims until she passed away in 2005.

Ms. Reeb left her estate to her nephews Mike and Randy Holland, who worked with TPL to bring all of their aunt’s mining claims into public ownership as originally contemplated in the 1996 agreement. TPL bought the claims over a two-year period and then sold them to the USFS for inclusion in the Gallatin and Custer National Forests.

Mary Erickson, Forest Supervisor for the Gallatin and Custer National Forests, said the acquisition of these critical private lands will help conserve watersheds and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, key habitat for grizzly bear, elk and moose and other species, provide public access and recreation opportunities near Cooke City, and offer a viable option to resale and development.

Mike Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said, “”This is a wonderful day for Yellowstone and the millions of people who cherish it. Clark, who led the successful fight against the proposed mine, added, “After three decades of tireless efforts by hundreds of dedicated people, TPL has done an outstanding job of pushing the ball across the goal line. This deal finally closes the book on one of the greatest threats to the integrity of one of the world’s most beloved parks.”

Alex Diekmann, a Senior Project Manager for TPL, said: “Putting the Reeb claims back into public ownership is a big win for everyone. Not only does it guarantee that a mine will never be built up there, but it also ensures that extraordinary scenery and critical wildlife habitat for grizzly bear, elk and other species will not be spoiled by inappropriate backcountry development.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the premier federal program to conserve lands throughout the nation. The LWCF is a critical tool to acquire inholdings, expansions of public lands, and new federal designations throughout the national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, wild and scenic river corridors, national scenic and historic trails, the Bureau of Land Management lands and other federal areas. Senators Baucus and Tester have co sponsored a bill called The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2009, (S. 2747) that would guarantee dedicated funding to the program. Efforts are now underway in Congress to fully fund the program.

The Trust for Public Land is a leading national non-profit land conservation that conserves land for people to enjoy and parks, wilderness, open space and playgrounds. Since 1972, TPL has conserved more than 3 million acres in 47 states. TPL’s offices in Montana are located in Bozeman and Helena.