(CN) - A wildlife agency did not violate federal law in finding that grizzly bears can coexist in and around Montana's Cabinet Mountains Wilderness with a large copper and silver mine, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Revett Silver Company has been trying to build the Rock Creek Mine in northwestern Montana for years despite strong opposition and several lawsuits from Rock Creek Alliance and other groups. The opposition claims the mine will befoul groundwater, diminish already threatened populations of grizzly bears and bull trout, and destroy the wilderness character of the region.
In a federal complaint, the environmentalists claimed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had ignored several requirements of the Endangered Species Act in its finding that the mine would have little effect on the lives and habitats of local grizzly bears and bull trout. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy granted summary judgment to the agency and Revett Silver Co., which had intervened in the case.
On appeal, a Portland, Ore.-based panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed.
Despite Rock Creek Alliance's contention to the contrary, the three-judge panel found nothing wrong with the agency's use of "large-scale analysis" to examine the potential fate of bull trout, nor did it agree with the group's claim that the "methodology for calculating grizzly bear mitigation habitat was flawed."
Rock Creek had also challenged Revett Silver's overall mitigation plan as "speculative." Again the panel disagreed, citing the agency's opinion that the grizzlies will likely fare better with the mine than without it.
"The required mitigation plan for the mine is multi-faceted and includes not only Revett Silver Company's required acquisition of mitigation land parcels, but also management of road and trail access into bear habitat, management of attractants, information and education programs, increased law enforcement, funding for enhanced monitoring and research, measures to reduce habitat fragmentation, and the introduction to the area of six female grizzly bears," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the court.
"The mitigation plan was so robust that the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded it 'would in fact improve conditions over the long-term over the existing conditions, ultimately promoting the recovery of the [local] grizzly bear population,'" Pregerson added (brackets in original).
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