Mining Company Out of Canada Says it Will Continue to Explore Bitterroot River Headwaters for Rare Earth Metals

On May 2, U.S. Forest Service officials stationed in the Bitterroot National Forest of western Montana said they’ve received a mining company’s Notice of Intent (NOI) to further explore the headwaters of the Bitterroot River for underground minerals used in smartphones, wind turbines, electric car batteries, and a host of other alternative energy applications. The so-called rare-earth elements are located in the Sheep Creek drainage of the Bitterroot Mountains, which flows into the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. But extraction would likely require a large open-pit mine, according to experts familiar with rare-earth mining practices. Concerned hunters and anglers fear that such a project would harm the Bitterroot’s world-class trout fishery and the area’s intact habitat for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and other iconic Western game species.

US Critical Materials (USCM) describes itself as a Utah-based company, but it has roots in Vancouver, Canada, according to reporting from the Missoulian. The company first announced its intent to mine for rare-earth metals above the headwaters of the Bitterroot’s West Fork back in 2022. The announcement caused significant alarm among local residents, hunters and anglers, and some national conservation groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Trout Unlimited.

“We’re watching it closely,” David Brooks, Executive Director of Montana Trout Unlimited tells Field & Stream. “It would be a concern for us to see any mine in the West Fork of the Bitterroot, particularly up there on Sheep Creek.” The area is home to endangered bull trout and native Westslope cutthroat trout, Brooks notes, and Sheep Creek—where USCM says it wants to mine—serves as a source of cold, clean water where both species can spawn.

Read more from Field & Stream here...

About Travis Hall

Travis Hall is a writer, hunter and angler based in the Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana

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