The Biden administration plans on putting a ban on mining in a South Dakota forest due to concerns over the area’s cultural and natural resources. In a joint statement, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service announced their consideration of a 20-year withdrawal for 20,574 acres in the Black Hills National Forest, near Pactola Reservoir and Rapid Creek Watershed. During the review process, this proposal would temporarily halt new mining claims and federal mineral leases for two years.
Critics, such as Rep. Pete Stauber, argue that land restrictions impede the domestic development of essential minerals for national defense, energy technology, and everyday life. However, proponents of the ban contend that it could safeguard the drinking water supply from the adverse effects of mineral exploration and development.
The proposal will be published on March 21st, initiating a 90-day public comment period for stakeholders to voice their opinions on the action. Under federal law, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has the legal authority to withdraw public lands from mining leasing for up to 20 years.
BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning expressed satisfaction in collaborating with the USDA Forest Service on the mining ban proposal, emphasizing the importance of protecting South Dakotans’ primary drinking water source as the Forest Service evaluates the 20-year withdrawal. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore also highlighted the need for a thorough review of any activities that may impact critical resources in the region.
The potential 20-year withdrawal comes as Minneapolis-based mining company F3 Gold is going through an approval process for gold exploration in the area. This development follows a recent draft decision by the Forest Service allowing the company to explore across 3 acres and construct infrastructure under certain restrictions after an in-depth environmental assessment.
F3 Gold has committed to abstaining from extracting water from the Rapid Creek Watershed and avoiding using hazardous chemicals. In addition, the company insists that it would never undertake any project that threatens regional water sources and has made numerous land use and ecological stewardship pledges.
F3 Gold argues that its proposed Jenny Gulch Exploration Drilling Project could produce precious metals vital for green-powered technologies, such as solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, and aerospace and telecommunications equipment.
F3 Gold highlights the critical nature of gold in various economic sectors in the United States, emphasizing its importance for the nation’s future on its website. Moreover, other companies have expressed interest in exploring lithium, essential for electric vehicle batteries, and uranium, crucial for zero-emissions nuclear power. Copper and silver deposits have also been discovered in the Black Hills.
However, the local environmental group Black Hills Clean Water Alliance argues against large-scale mining in the region, citing the unique ecological, cultural, and historical significance of the Black Hills as the treaty homeland of the Lakota people. In addition, they contend that the current economy, based on agriculture and tourism, is more prosperous and less damaging to the area’s resources than a mining-based economy.
In their joint announcement, the BLM and Forest Service acknowledged the importance of responsibly developing domestic mineral supplies for transitioning to a clean energy economy. However, they also emphasized the need to protect natural resources.
Despite vast reserves of gold in the United States, federal data revealed that the country produced only around 170 metric tons of the precious metal in 2022. In comparison, China mined 330 metric tons, beating everyone else’s production levels for the second consecutive year.