Mining company, conservationists protect stretch of Yellowstone River

Gov. Steve Bullock, speaking, joined Sen. Jon Tester and others Thursday in announcing the conservation of 549 acres along the Yellowstone River, along with water rights. (Courtesy photo)

A stretch of the Yellowstone River and surrounding habitat received a significant boost from a mining company and a coalition of outdoor groups on Thursday, who announced an agreement to protect 549 acres along the storied waterway.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock joined conservation and industry leaders in dedicating the mining water rights and conservation easement, which is vital for elk migration and serves as a scenic Yellowstone National Park viewshed.

“Montana’s Yellowstone River is one of the last, great free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states,”  Bullock said. “It’s fitting that on the one-year anniversary of a difficult decision to close 183 miles of the river, we gather to celebrate a unique partnership between a mining company and two leading conservation groups working together to protect this national treasure and the local economy it supports.”

Last summer, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed a large stretch of the Yellowstone River to all recreational use due to an extensive fish kill. The closure extended from Yellowstone National Park at Gardiner to Laurel.

Tests later traced the kill to a microscopic parasite that causes kidney disease in whitefish and trout.

As part of its remediation and reclamation plans for the Mineral Hill Mine, a subsidiary of Kinross Gold donated water rights representing approximately 3 billion gallons of water to Trout Unlimited to permanently protect vital fish habitat in tributaries of the Yellowstone River.

The company also reached a conservation easement agreement with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Missoula, to permanently protect a 549-acre land corridor used by migratory elk.

Paul Rollinson, president and CEO of Kinross Gold, said the deal adhered to the company’s philosophy.

“Mining responsibly is an imperative at Kinross, and it guides the decision-making at all of our properties,” said Rollinson. “We’re proud to partner with Trout Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to achieve positive benefits for the environment and local communities by protecting important fish and wildlife habitat in the Yellowstone area.”

Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, said last year’s fish kill and emergency closure of the Yellowstone River punctuated the importance of making the state’s rivers more resilient.

The agreement announced Thursday will help keep more water in the river, providing cooler temperatures during summer months, along with better habitat for fish and wildlife.

“It’s great to see a company such as Kinross understand that healthy fisheries are the lifeblood of the West,” said Rollinson. “Trout Unlimited is excited to see such a partnership provide lasting benefits to both the river and the communities that depends on it.”

David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said the partnership will help conserve vital wildlife habitat and preserve public access.

“This project is a win-win for elk and elk country because it permanently protects a key migration corridor as well as important habitat for elk, deer and other wildlife,” said