LIBBY, Mont. (AP) — A silver and copper mine proposed for northwestern Montana won't harm grizzly bears or other threatened or endangered species in the area, federal wildlife officials have found.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday issued its final biological opinion on the proposed Montanore Silver-Copper Project about 17 miles south of Libby.
Spokane, Wash.-based Mines Management Inc. has been working to permit the mine since 2005.
"This is great news for the company and the community," Mines Management chairman and CEO Glenn Dobbs said in a statement. "We have worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service and USFWSS to achieve an outstanding plan for protection of the grizzly bear, bull trout and other species."
Mine permitting consultant Eric Klepfer said Wednesday he expects a preliminary environmental review to be completed in June and a final record of decision by late this year.
The mine plan calls for surface operations just outside the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area, with drilling underneath.
The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem on the Montana-Idaho border is one of six areas in the continental United States where the federal government is committed to restoring grizzly bear populations. A recent DNA study indicated there were about 42 grizzlies in the area.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed mine could lead to the loss of one federally protected grizzly bear. But it said required mitigation — including the purchase of 5,000 acres of grizzly habitat at risk for development — will make up for the loss.
Mine owners also will be required to hire a grizzly bear specialist and law enforcement officer to work in the ecosystem, convert some Forest Service trails to non-motorized use and purchase bear-proof containers for campgrounds, The Spokesman-Review reported.
The Fish and Wildlife Service found that mining excavation would lead to permanent changes in groundwater flows, including less water in Rock Creek and the Bull River. However, wildlife officials say the mine shouldn't hurt bull trout populations in the Lower Clark Fork or Kootenai rivers.
Jim Costello, Montana director for the Rock Creek Alliance, said Thursday he hadn't seen the opinion. But he said the Montanore mine, along with the Rock Creek Mine proposed by Revett Mining Co. Inc., would have overlapping detrimental effects on the environment. Both propose drilling under the Cabinet wilderness.
Dobbs said the Montanore project has strong support in northwestern Montana, where many communities have struggled with the loss of timber jobs. The mine's operations would be in Lincoln and Sanders counties, which had unemployment rates of 16.5 percent and 14.7 percent in February.
Mine managers say the mine would employ about 500 people during the construction phase and about 350 during its estimated 15-year production life.