Trump-era decision to allow Rock Creek Mine overturned

Map from 2018 U.S. Forest Service environmental impact statement.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy on April 13 overturned a Trump-era decision allowing further development of Hecla Mining Company’s Rock Creek silver and copper mine near Troy, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by unlawfully ignoring the impacts of the full mine proposal on federally protected grizzly bears and bull trout.

Earthjustice attorneys argued the case, representing as plaintiffs the Ksanka Kupaqa Xaʾⱡȼin, Rock Creek Alliance, Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit.

The ruling, they said, safeguards the most vulnerable grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states, threatened bull trout, and sacred and aboriginal lands of the Ktunaxa Nation from the mine’s impacts.

“We are gratified by the Court’s decision, which affirmed that the agencies cannot gamble with the fate of imperiled grizzly bears and bull trout by ignoring the full impacts of the Rock Creek Mine,” said Katherine O’Brien, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the plaintiffs.

Hecla Mining Company is seeking to develop two mines — the Montanore and Rock Creek projects — beneath and adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwest Montana.

A coalition of conservation groups and traditional cultural leaders within the Ksanka band of the Ktunaxa Nation have filed multiple lawsuits in state and federal court challenging the issuance of permits for both proposed mines.

In 2017, the federal district court in Montana invalidated the federal permits for the Montanore Mine on the ground that they too violated the Endangered Species Act.

The Kootenai National Forest approved Hecla’s proposal for the first phase of the Rock Creek Mine, which would have employed around 300, in August, 2018.