There are some places that are just too valuable to mine. That’s the notion behind the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition’s push to stop a pair of proposed gold mines in Paradise Valley, one of which would border Yellowstone National Park. The coalition, made up of more than 200 businesses distributed throughout Gardiner, Livingston and the rest of the valley, formed in opposition to a proposed gold mine in Emigrant Gulch and another mine just across the park boundary. The business coalition claims the mines would do lasting damage to the area’s economy and quality of life, and would be a far greater burden than benefit. The business coalition is right. In a place that depends on tourism from hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts, a gold mine would kill more jobs than it would create.
The fight against the mines began in 2015, when Lucky Minerals, Inc. proposed exploratory drilling on public and private lands in and around Emigrant Gulch. Later that year, the company withdrew its proposal to mine on the federal portion of the land when the U.S. Forest Service informed them that they would be subject to a strict environmental review. However, Lucky Minerals Inc. continues to move forward with plans to explore the private portion of the land, despite the protests of local residents and business owners. While the residents respect the private property rights of others, many note that the proposed mine would infringe on their respective property rights by bringing industrial scale mining, and all that comes with it, to their front doors.
Many of these doors have golden signs prominently positioned, voicing opposition to the project. I don’t think a single home I drove past on Emigrant Creek Road lacked one. “Yellowstone is More Valuable Than Gold,” read the signs in large, prominent font, immediately followed by, “We Support the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition.” Every home had one. Many had multiple. Emigrant Creek Road itself is diminutive in size, barely wide enough for a single car to navigate, and snakes its way up into Emigrant Gulch along the banks of the creek, ultimately devolving into a sharky path that cuts across a slope of loose talus. A casual analysis was all it took to conclude there would be no way to transport industrial scale mining equipment into the gulch without considerable impacts.
In October, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality released a draft environmental assessment for the private land aspect of the project. It recommended allowing Lucky Minerals Inc. to move forward with its exploratory drilling, stating, “DEQ has determined that the environmental impacts resulting from Lucky Mineral’s proposed exploration project will not be significant.” That conclusion differs from the viewpoint of virtually every business and landowner in the valley, and that’s whose opinions matter most. Opposition to the project spans from ranchers and real estate agents to fly fishing outfitters and environmentalists. For these residents, it is not so much a political issue as it is a financial and community one. They stand to gain little from the mines but to lose much more. Their collective future is more valuable than the possible gold beneath their feet.