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Zinke expected to OK block on mining claims near Yellowstone


U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has scheduled a visit next week
to Montana, where he’s expected to finalize a proposal to block new
mining claims on the forested public lands just outside Yellowstone National Park.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, plans to sign documents and
make a “major announcement” about conservation on Monday in the
Paradise Valley area, Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift said Thursday.

Swift declined to give further details except to say it was an
issue Zinke had been working on for years.

Colin Davis with the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, who
was asked to speak at the event, said he expects Zinke to sign the
20-year mineral withdrawal for lands in the Paradise Valley and
Gardiner Basin.

“That’s definitely our expectation,” said Davis, who owns the
Chico Hot Springs Resort near the small community of Emigrant.
“This is Yellowstone’s backyard. Protecting this corridor is of
national and world interest….I’m ecstatic.”

Gardiner Basin and Paradise Valley are bordered by snow-capped
mountains and home to grizzly bears, wolves and other wildlife. Both
areas have a history of small-scale mining, and the scars of
abandoned mines are visible on some hillsides.

If Zinke signs the withdrawal, it would extend a two-year ban
imposed by former Interior Sec. Sally Jewell in 2016. It covers new
claims for gold, silver and other minerals across 30,000 acres
(12,140 hectares). That ban was set to expire next month.

Most of the land is within the Custer Gallatin National Forest,
but the underground minerals are overseen by the Interior
Department.

The U.S. Forest Service last month recommended approval of a
20-year ban. About 1.7 million people drove through the area last
year, and withdrawing the land from new mining development would
help protect wildlife and recreation, service officials concluded.

Zinke said at the time that he favoured the withdrawal and it
would be finalized within weeks.

Supporters of the mineral withdrawal were worried two new mining
projects proposed in the area that could damage waterways and hurt
tourism, a mainstay of the local economy

While existing mining claims held by the companies behind the two
projects would not be affected by a withdrawal, it could make it
harder to expand the projects into large-scale operations.

The mining industry opposes putting the public land off-limits.
Backers of the withdrawal have pushed the state’s Congressional
delegation to make it permanent.

The House Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 26 approved
permanent withdrawal legislation sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep.
Greg Gianforte. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
approved identical legislation from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester
on Tuesday.

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