Bitterroot Forest awaits rare-earth mine plans

Bitterroot National Forest officials are still waiting for details on a proposed rare earth mining project in the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley.

“The Bitterroot National Forest has not received a draft Plan of Operations for any exploration drilling or a proposal to develop a mine in the Sheep Creek Area,” West Fork District Ranger Dan Pliley said in an email statement Wednesday. “If the Forest Service receives a plan, we will review the plan, and if warranted, will take the proposal through the National Environmental Policy Act process. The NEPA process would include the opportunity for public notification and comment and ensure compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations before moving forward with the project.”

Last week, Nevada-based U.S. Critical Materials declared its interest in prospecting the Sheep Creek drainage for rare earth minerals needed for electronics and other industrial uses. The company has filed claims in the historic Sheep Creek Columbite Deposit mine site, in the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. That site, about 38 miles south of Darby and 13 miles from the Painted Rocks Reservoir, was first developed in 1953. 

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