Imagine living in a cabin and getting up in the morning and being able to take a drink directly from the nearby creek without any fear of contamination or illness. How would you feel about a proposed mining operation upstream that would definitely pollute your clean pristine creek? In addition, how would you feel if you learned that the same mining company would be driving large trucks on the small 1 lane dirt road that runs right past your cabin, which also happens to be your year round home?
That’s what 61-year-old Bryan Wells is facing. He, along with a couple hundred other residents that live north of Yellowstone National Park, are trying to fight two different proposed gold mining ventures that would change their environment for the worse. Additionally, the gold mining ventures could result in dangerous contamination with things like lead and arsenic, that could eventually make their way into America’s first National Park.
The cabin and land where Wells lives has belonged to his wife’s family since 1873. They moved to the area to mine for gold nearly a century and half ago, long before Yellowstone became a national park. Back in those days, her family recounted how they had to get up before dawn in order to draw the day’s water before other mining efforts turned Emigrant Creek the color of chocolate milk.
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Two different mining companies have applied for permits to begin exploratory mining on private and public land in the area. They claim that the 1872 Mining Act gives them the right to file claims on federal lands without paying the government any royalties on their profits. Lucky Minerals already has over 100 mining claims, each covering about 20 acres of federal land.
Over the years, the land has healed from the scars of early mining and is approaching the pristine looking forest like that found in Yellowstone just south of them. In fact, the restoration of the land has led to a thriving economy of the county. Wells and the coalition of about 200 businesses in the area have put together a report showing that the county makes around $70 million a year from fisherman. If the mining ventures are allowed to go forward, most to all of that valuable income could be lost.
Wells, rarely leaves home, but he feels so threatened by the mining ventures that he spent 46 hours on a train to Washington DC to see what he can do to stop the mining. He told the media:
“I never leave home, so I am way, way out of my comfort zone. But this is really important to me. If these mines were allowed to developed, it would be devastating to the economy of Park County because we depend so much on the pristine beauty of the area and tourism.”
In Washington DC, Wells met up with Colin Davis, owner of the Chico Hot Springs Resort which has existed for over a century, and Tracy Raich, a real estate broker and wife of a mining engineer. The trio, who are representing some 200 small and large business owners, have managed to meet with some senior Obama administration officials and Montana’s senators and representatives. Since the Yellowstone National Park is featured in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic, the trio managed to hold a reception at the National Geographic Society Washington headquarters.
Their goal is to persuade the federal government to withdraw the federal and public lands in the Custer Gallatin National Forest from any and all mining. They are asking the Montana federal politicians to introduce legislation to make the withdrawal from mining a permanent thing.
Sen. Jon Tester, (D-MT) told the media:
“There are just some places that are too special to dig or drill, and the front porch of Yellowstone Park is one of those places.”
The two mining companies have stated that they will fight any and all efforts to withdraw lands from mining efforts. Shaun Dykes, Vice president of Lucky Minerals told the media:
“We would fight tooth and nail for our rights.”
He also said it makes no sense to withdraw the lands from mining as the mines would create jobs and help the local economy. What he didn’t say is whether or not his mines would bring in enough economy to replace the $70 million a year that will be lost due to the mines.
My family visited Yellowstone National Park a number of years ago. We also drove up north of the park into Montana and the area that Wells and his neighbors are trying to preserve. I remember it as being beautiful country with great fishing.
I’m not a tree hugging environmentalist and have had clashes with groups like the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife in the past. However, I would hate to see Yellowstone and the area north of it ruined by mining operations. I believe the preservation of the unique environment of Yellowstone is far more important than tearing up the land and polluting the rivers and streams in the search for gold. I plan on writing my Senator and Representative and ask them to help preserve Yellowstone and the Custer Gallatin National Forest. I urge you to do the same!