|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
October 13, 2006
NON-JEOPARDY BIOLOGICAL OPINION
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a non-jeopardy biological opinion for the Revett Silver Company’s proposed Rock Creek Mine project in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana. The non-jeopardy opinion concludes that the project incorporates a conservative approach to ensure adequate measures to conserve grizzly bears and bull trout. The mitigation plan for the Rock Creek mine will be protective of threatened bull trout and should produce a positive net effect for the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem grizzly bear population.
“We are very aware of the significance of any impacts to these listed species, but believe that the conservation measures by the Kootenai National Forest and the Revett Silver Company will improve habitat security and reduce human-caused mortality of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and will provide long-term monitoring data for both grizzly bears and bull trout,” said Mitch King, Regional Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. “The long-term monitoring will improve the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to assess impacts to bull trout and grizzly bears and assess their population status,” King added.
The Service believes that most of the potential negative effects to both grizzly bears and bull trout would occur mainly during the construction phase of the mine. Several measures were added to the mitigation plan since 2003 to reduce or avoid adverse effects to grizzly bears. The Revett Silver Co. would provide funding for two grizzly bear specialists and one law enforcement officer; bear-resistant food and garbage storage at the mine site, at the homes of mine employees and at county garbage transfer stations; the acquisition of 2,450 acres of privately-owned grizzly bear habitat in the Cabinet Yaak ecosystem; public information and education programs; and linkage habitat research in the Cabinet Yaak ecosystem. Construction of the mine would begin only after the Cabinet Mountain grizzly bear population has been supplemented by at least six new female bears (two of which have already been trapped and transplanted into the region) that will be monitored by wildlife research officials. This would further assure that the potential loss of a female grizzly bear due to the effects of the proposed mine, if such loss were to occur, would be fully offset. In addition, prior to, during and after construction of the mine, Revett Silver Company will fund a continuous monitoring program for grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains in order to gauge the effectiveness of the conservation measures, to track movements of grizzly bears moved into the Cabinet Mountains through the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks augmentation program and to monitor habitat use by grizzly bears. If monitoring shows elevated or unanticipated risks to grizzly bears, the Service would request re-initiation of consultation to address the issue. No other grizzly bear ecosystem has received such an intensive, concerted and coordinated effort to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and people and to reduce the potential for human-caused mortality of grizzly bears.
Construction of the mine is expected to increase levels of sediment getting into Rock Creek during the 5-year construction period and for 2 years afterward. Realizing that such conditions could adversely affect bull trout, Revett Silver Company will be required to provide long-term monitoring designed to detect changes in water chemistry and changes in stream temperature and stream flows. If monitoring results indicate an elevated risk of adverse impacts to bull trout, this would trigger the Service to re-initiate consultation with the Forest Service who permits the mining activity.
The proposed Rock Creek Mine site would be a 10,000-tons-per-day underground copper and silver mine. The mine would be located in northwestern Montana in Sanders County and would include 1,560 acres, 483 of which would be directly involved in mining operations. The additional 1,078 acres would remain undeveloped by mining activity. The mining operation would extend for at least a 35-year period, including construction, at least 27 years of production, followed by reclamation.
The grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem is small (approximately 30-40 bears). The Service is on record as stating that the mortality goal for this population is zero, meaning that recovery and management efforts strive to reduce the potential for grizzly bear mortalities. The Rock Creek Mine has an anticipated level of direct take of one bear over the 35-year life of the mine, but the Service believes that the conservation measures for grizzly bears will prevent the loss of more bears during this time.
The Service originally issued a biological opinion on the Rock Creek Mine in December 2000. Included in this biological opinion were plans for two mines. In addition to the Rock Creek Mine was the Montanore Mine by Noranda, Inc. At that time the Service issued a jeopardy opinion with reasonable and prudent alternatives for grizzly bears and a non-jeopardy for bull trout.
In March 2002, after litigation was filed against the Service relating to its determinations for both grizzly bears and bull trout, the Service asked the court to allow it to revisit the biological opinion. The court agreed.
Shortly after the Service
began its review of the biological opinion, Noranda, Inc., abandoned its
permit for the Montanore Mining Project in the Cabinet Mountains. This
action substantively improved baseline environmental conditions for
grizzly bears in the southern Cabinets. In 2003, the Service issued a
revised biological opinion that concluded that the Rock Creek Mine would
not jeopardize the grizzly bear and bull trout, based on substantial
conservation measures and the withdrawal of an undeveloped Noranda Mine
from the baseline. The Service was sued and in March 2005 the Court ruled
against the Service’s non-jeopardy finding and remanded it back to the
Service. The Service believes that this new biological opinion
sufficiently addresses all of the issues raised by the court in the 2005
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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