Jewell, Tester talk mining ban, LWCF in Livingston

by Michael Wright, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

LIVINGSTON- The former Interior Secretary stood a stone’s throw from the Yellowstone River on Friday, imploring people to pressure their elected officials and the Trump administration to protect the mountains east of the Paradise Valley from future mining.

Sally Jewell, who presided over the Interior Department during President Barack Obama’s second term, told a crowd gathered at Miles Park here that she wanted to see an extension of the mineral withdrawal she ordered nearly two years ago, which blocked new mining claims on 30,000 acres of public land near where two mining companies want to look for gold.

“I appreciate that mining is important in Montana,” Jewell said. “But it should not be done everywhere.”

Jewell joined Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester here for the Last Best Outdoors Fest, an event celebrating the outdoor recreation industry and conservation. Organized by Business for Montana’s Outdoors, Montana Mountain Mamas, Artemis and the Montana Wildlife Federation, the event centered on a theme of Women in the Outdoors.

Before the afternoon speeches, the pair appeared with a panel of female business owners and managers. Later, attendees filled the park to hear live music, drink beer and listen to the two guests of honor.

The event came just days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to return to Montana to campaign for state auditor Matt Rosendale, who is seeking to unseat Tester. Libertarian Rick Breckenridge is also running for the seat.

Campaign talk wasn’t on the agenda, though, as the pair filled their speeches with talk about the importance of Montana’s landscapes to both quality of life and the state’s economy. Jewell did urge attendees to vote but didn’t say who they should vote for.

Tester spoke just before Jewell. He mentioned the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a pot of money used for conservation and parks projects throughout the country. The fund is set to expire at the end of September.

“It’s got to be reauthorized, and it’s got to be funded,” Tester said.

Reauthorizing the fund is supported by all members of the Montana delegation.

Tester also urged people to pressure the delegation to advance a bill making the mineral withdrawal permanent. He also said it was an inappropriate place for a mine.

“Paradise Valley is called Paradise Valley for a reason,” Tester said.

He and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte have introduced bills making the withdrawal permanent. The delegation felt they were close to attaching the measure to the last spending bill, passed in March, but it was ultimately left out.

That spending bill expires at the end of September. After the speeches, Tester said the next spending bill was one of several potential vehicles for passing the mineral withdrawal, though he said it would be nice to pass it on its own.

Jewell urged passage of that bill but also said the two-year ban she put in place in 2016 should be extended to last 20 years – the maximum length of time such a withdrawal can last.

The Forest Service proposed extending the ban to 20 years in March. Jewell’s successor, Montana’s former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, will decide whether the ban should last that long.

“He needs to do that,” Jewell said.