Ruling halts proposed mine under wilderness area, for now

Plans to build a massive copper and silver mine beneath Montana’s Cabinet Mountain Wilderness was successfully halted (again) yesterday when a federal judge ruled that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials put the area’s bull trout and grizzly bears at risk by approving the mine. The ruling orders the FWS to amend the biological opinion it issued in 2003 that concluded the Rock Creek mine — which would produce some 10,000 tons of silver and copper ore per day for 35 years and pour over 3 million gallons of wastewater per day into an area river — posed “no jeopardy” to the trout or grizzlies. An earlier biological opinion, issued in 2000, concluded that the mine would in fact “jeopardize” the bears unless special measures were taken for their protection, but the agency signed off on the mine anyway. A coalition of enviros sued, forcing the FWS to reconsider, eventually leading to the weaker 2003 decision. Yesterday’s ruling again orders reconsideration.