Mining company stakes rare earth minerals claim in Bitterroot National Forest

Claims located in headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River south of Darby
Climate Rare Minerals
Bitterroot Minerals Found Sheep Creek
Posted at 5:23 PM, Mar 16, 2023

MISSOULA - U.S. Critical Materials Corporation has staked a claim to rare earth minerals in the Bitterroot National Forest, that they say may be worth billions of dollars.

The claims are in the Sheep Creek area, located in the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River, about 38 miles south of Darby.

The Utah-based mining company — which has been focused on the area for almost 20 years — says this may be the highest-quality vein of rare earth minerals in the United States.

Bitterroot Minerals Found Sheep Creek

What was found are the building blocks for computer chips, batteries, and solar panels. The U.S. currently imports 90% of its rare earth minerals and this project aims to change that.

The Bitterroot National Forest sent out a press release Wednesday saying in part:

"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. 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 (NEPA) process."

MTN News has received calls from several people who say they are worried that this operation would destroy the Bitterroot's natural beauty.

The vein has not been fully explored and will need to cut through a lot of red tape to move ahead any further. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service notes people will get a say in the matter.

We spoke with U.S. Critical Materials Corporation Director of Operations Rachel Winn who said the company’s number one goal is to extract the rare earth in a way that is safe.

Climate Rare Minerals
FILE - Refined tellurium is displayed at the Rio Tinto Kennecott refinery, May 11, 2022, in Magna, Utah. The world has enough rare earth minerals and other critical raw materials to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to produce electricity and limit global warming, according to a new study that counters concerns about the supply of such minerals. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have; you need permission to even pick up a shovel," Winn explained. "The impact is looked [at] over and over again to make sure there is no damage to the land, water, or even animals."

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Montana Bureau of Mining and Geology will be the next groups to check out the site, but Winn couldn't give a timeline for that move.

The process could take years. We are working to dig deeper into this story and will keep you updated.