The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Lih-An Yang
The Courier 

BLM to Restrict Mine Claims for Sage Grouse


BLM has proposed to withdraw 983,156 acres of public land in Montana from “location and entry under the United States mining laws” to protect a key greater sage grouse conservation area. If approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, these lands can be excluded from hardrock mining for a maximum of 20 years. This proposal is now undergoing a public comment process through Dec. 23, 2015.

These acres have been designated as “Sagebrush Focal Areas”, and, effective Sept. 24, 2015, there will be a 2-year freeze on new mining claims on these grounds while BLM gathers public comments and conducts additional analyses in preparation for an Environmental Impact Statement and a final decision.

The proposal comes in conjunction with the Sept. 22 announcement by the Department of Interior that the greater sage grouse will not be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, thanks to landscape-scale cooperation among multiple stakeholders as such mining industry, ranchers, government agencies, biologists and environmental groups to begin conserve sage grouse habitat five years ago and thus avoid the need to list the bird as an endangered species.

The proposed mineral withdrawl area straddles south Valley and Phillips Counties, and also includes parts of Fergus, Garfield, and Petroleum Counties. On a map, if one looks at the area bound to the north by Highway 2 thru Saco, bound to the south by CMR along Missouri River, bound to the west by Highway 191 down to Fred Robinson Bridge, and bound to the east by the road between Glasgow and Fort Peck, the proposal encompasses most of the southwestern and eastern portions.

Designated as “Sagebrush Focal Areas,” they make up the very core of the greater sage grouse habitat in eastern Montana and the only such designation in our state, according to Pat Gunderson, supervisor of BLM’s Glasgow Field Office. These are the grounds that have been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “strongholds” for greater sage grouse and have the highest population densities along with other criteria important for the bird’s persistence.

According to Gunderson, this proposal does not affect valid existing rights-- such as ongoing or future mining exploration or extraction on pre-existing claims—as well as oil and gas development. In Valley County, commercial gravel and bentonite are the only types of mining activity that could be affected in the exclusion area.

How will these recent headlines regarding greater sage grouse affect Valley County on the ground? “The main message is, we will put more focus on sage grouse. Nothing to make wholesale changes on grazing and oil/gas development,” said Gunderson.

For more information on the proposed mineral withdrawl, see the legal notice on page 5B in this week’s Courier.


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