Chronicle column: Proposed mines risk economy, Yellowstone Nat'l Park

The following was first published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a guest opinion by GYC Executive Director Caroline Byrd. 

Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.

That is the message the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition proclaimed up and down Paradise Valley in the run-up to the National Park Service Centennial celebration on Thursday. If you happened to be driving to Gardiner for the festivities, you no doubt saw the yellow banners and yard signs all along the way. This diverse group of businesses and landowners is taking a stand against two proposed gold mines that threaten our beloved first national park, local jobs, and a way of life in Park County.

A Business Coalition sign on the Yellowstone River, north of the park in the Paradise Valley. Business owners here are banding together to oppose two gold mines. We stand with them! (Photo GYC.)

A Business Coalition sign on the Yellowstone River, north of the park in the Paradise Valley. Business owners here are banding together to oppose two gold mines. We stand with them! (Photo GYC.)

Thankfully, as we celebrate 100 years of stewarding our treasured national parks, our nation’s leaders are listening. In his remarks at the centennial event, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis noted that threats to our parks don’t understand boundaries – including “adjacent threats from mining.”

With such strong and diverse local support for protecting Yellowstone and Paradise Valley’s economy, it’s baffling that foreign-backed mining companies continue to plan gold mines on the park’s doorstep. The state of Montana is currently reviewing gold exploration proposals for mines in Emigrant Gulch and on Crevice Mountain, the latter of which would be easily visible from the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner where Director Jarvis stood on Thursday. Will the year we celebrate our national parks also be the year we allow Yellowstone – the world’s first and most iconic park – to be polluted by gold mines? We can’t let this happen.

The reason much of the opposition to the proposed mines comes from local businesses is because they understand what makes Park County’s economy tick. Clean water, abundant wildlife, access to public lands, and beautiful vistas support dozens of industries and make it easy to attract first-rate talent. Replace these things with constant truck traffic, polluted rivers, and scarred mountain slopes and you have a recipe for disaster. Sadly, we’re witnessing right now how fragile the mighty Yellowstone River is as we see the thousands of dead fish killed by a microscopic parasite and the resulting closure of 183 river miles. The countless businesses hurting over the river closure demonstrate just how much the local economy depends on a healthy river. The last thing this river needs is more stressors.

Unfortunately, antiquated mining laws stack the deck in favor of mines in pristine areas. The General Mining Law of 1872 essentially gives away our public lands to anyone looking for gold or other hard rock minerals. This outdated statute, along with a slew of others, make it almost impossible to safeguard lands from mines, even along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

However, the last 100 years have taught us that if we can protect sacred lands anywhere it is right here in Greater Yellowstone, the wild heart of North America. The Paradise Valley is the red-carpet entrance to the park, and a critical piece of this vast, complex landscape that supports not only an amazing web of life and the economy of this region, but also the human spirit. Our national parks, wrote Wallace Stegner, are “absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” I can think of no better way to honor and celebrate a full century of parks and patriotism than to work together to fight this new threat to our community and backyard park.

Here’s what you can do. First, join the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition (dontmineyellowstone.com) and become part of a network of leaders standing up for the park, our river, and local jobs. Second, with two pending gold exploration proposals before the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the public will soon get a chance to provide comments. Weigh in and share your thoughts on why Yellowstone’s gateway is no place for gold mines. Third, thank Sen. Jon Tester and Congressman Ryan Zinke for standing with the community in opposing these dangerous mines. And finally, ask Sen. Steve Daines to join his fellow delegates and hundreds of local businesses in finding a solution that avoids sacrificing everything that makes this place so special.

Yellowstone is more valuable than gold. Let’s all work together to keep it that way.