Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

United States | Montana | Montanore Mine


The EIS predicts a permanent reduction in flows in popular Rock Lake (pictured here) – a designated Outstanding Natural Resource Water. The ore is directly underneath the lake.

The Montanore Mine is an underground copper/silver project proposed adjacent to and underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwest Montana.  Similar to the proposed Rock Creek Mine -- Montanore would blast miles of tunnels beneath the mountains, meadows, and alpine lakes of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area.

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area was one of the nation’s first wilderness areas to receive protection.  Today, this 93,000 acre gem remains the sole wilderness area in the 2.2 million-acre Kootenai National Forest.  It supports:

If the mine is approved, it will have lasting impacts on water, wildlife and wilderness.

Dewatering Wilderness Lakes and Streams

To keep underground tunnels dry during mining, the water table would be lowered 10 to 1,000 feet throughout a large area of the Wilderness Area. As this map shows, groundwater dependent rivers and lakes in the Wilderness would suffer the consequences. The EIS predicts that 26 miles of rivers and streams would experience reduced streamflows. Some would be permanently diminished. 

Photo: Clark Fork Coalition

Harming Bull Trout

The East Fork of Bull River and Rock Creek are the two most important recovery areas for threatened bull trout in the lower Clark Fork River watershed. The reduction of flow in these streams will be particularly harmful for bull trout, which rely on these cold, clear streams for spawning.

"Because the East Fork Bull River is considered the most important bull trout stream in the lower Clark Fork River drainage, decreased levels of bull trout spawning within this stream could have long-term adverse effects on bull trout population within the lower Clark Fork River Drainage.” -- Page 146 of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Threatening Grizzly Bears

The Cabinet Yaak grizzly bear population is already hanging on by a thread. Important grizzly bear habitat will be destroyed during mining, and the cumulative impact of two mines (Montanore and Rock Creek) will jeopardize the migratory corridor that is critical to their recovery.

What are we doing? 

In 2016, Earthworks, Save Our Cabinets and the Clark Fork Coalition filed a legal challenge against the Forest Service for approving the full mine plan because it violates state and federal laws to protect Outstanding Resource Waters, threatened species and fails to include mitigation measures to protect these valuable public resources from permanent harm. 

In 2017, the U.S. District Court of Montana ruled in favor of Earthworks and our allies on both lawsuits, overturning approval by U.S. Forest Service for the Montanore Mine. In two decisions, U.S. District Judge, Donald Molloy, ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act in approving a massive industrial mining operation on the boundary of—and literally under—the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. As the court recognized, “[t]he project is anticipated to have serious negative impacts on local populations of bull trout and an already declining grizzly bear population.” Also, said attorney Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, “The Court agreed with us on the biggest issue: that the agencies cannot approve a mine whose dewatering…will reduce flows in Wilderness streams and otherwise degrade pristine streams outside the Wilderness.”

New Legal Challenge

In February 2017, the Montana DEQ approved and issued a water quality permit for the proposed Montanore mine for discharges to the Clark Fork River that are expected to continue in perpetuity. In response, Earthworks and partners filed a lawsuit on August 15, 2017 on the basis that the Montana DEQ violated the Clean Water Act and Montana Water Quality Act by issuing a degradation permit to Montanore that was issued 25 years ago to Noranda for a different mine proposal at the site that was never built, rather than applying the latest technology to protect Montana’s high quality waters.

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