JARDINE— A Canadian mining company inked deals with two conservation groups Thursday that are meant to preserve elk habitat and cold water for trout just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Kinross Gold, a Toronto-based company, will donate its water rights to Trout Unlimited and has agreed to a conservation easement on its property on Mineral Hill, which hosted a working mine two decades ago. The company worked with Trout Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to negotiate the deal.
A large crowd gathered here Thursday to celebrate the agreements, with the border of Yellowstone just to the south and the old mine portals on a hill to the north. Montana’s entire congressional delegation, the governor, the deputy secretary of the interior and the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park all spoke to mark the occasion, praising the mining company for its donation and the conservation groups for their ability to work with the company.
“It’s a great day for the ecosystem,” said Dan Wenk, Yellowstone’s superintendent.
Mining began in this area in the 1860s and continued intermittently for several decades. TVX Gold Inc. began mining on Mineral Hill in the 1980s.
That mine closed in 1996. Reclamation began in 2000 with the removal of a mill, processing facilities, the planting of new vegetation and the closure of mine access points. Kinross merged with TVX in 2003 and took over the reclamation.
Much of the work is done, but the company is still managing a tailings facility there and monitoring a pipe that dumps water into Bear Creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone River. Mark Ioli, the vice president of reclamation operations for Kinross, said they’re in the “final throes of it.”
Conserving the property is part of Kinross’ remediation and reclamation plans for the Mineral Hill Mine. Talks with the two conservation groups began about a year and a half ago, and the company was able to reach an agreement to donate water rights and sign an easement.
“It’s such a feel-good event,” said Paul Rollinson, the CEO of Kinross Gold.
The conservation easement on the property will prevent development on 549 acres of land that butts up against Yellowstone and the Custer Gallatin National Forest. It will provide access to the Pine Creek trail, and it will remain a migration corridor for a variety of wildlife, including the elk of northern Yellowstone.
“This is one of the most significant elk migration corridors there is for the northern elk herd,” said David Allen, the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The company estimates the water rights the company donated to Trout Unlimited are worth about 3 billion gallons of water. Instead of being diverted, that water will instead remain in Pine Creek and Bear Creek, two small tributaries to the Yellowstone that come out of the mountains east of Jardine. They provide habitat for trout species, including the native Yellowstone cutthroat.
The donation came a year after the Yellowstone River fish kill, when a parasite killed thousands of mountain whitefish. Biologists blamed low stream flows and high water temperatures for exacerbating the fish kill. Tributary streams help with both issues by dumping more water into the river and offering fish a place to go when water in the main stem of a river is too warm.
“Trout need cold water every day,” said Chris Wood, the CEO of Trout Unlimited.
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