HAMILTON - Officials with the Bitterroot National Forest are responding to several recent media stories about two companies' lode claims in the Sheep Creek area of Ravalli County.
The articles included statements by U.S. Critical Materials and U.S. Critical Metals Corp. stating the site contains the highest-grade rare earth deposits in the United States, according to a news release.
West Fork District Ranger Dan Pliley released the following statement regarding "Rare Earth Element Exploration" in the Sheep Creek area on Wednesday:
“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. 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.”
The site is located in the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River, approximately 38 miles south of Darby. The release notes that deposits were found in the area in 1953 and have been studied and sampled since the early 1960s.
U.S. Critical Materials and U.S. Critical Metals Corp., submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) to conduct exploration activities within their Sheep Creek registered lode claims using hand tools for sampling and geologic mapping in October of 2022.
Bitterroot National Forest officials report that last year's activities included soil sampling, stream sediment sampling, rock chip sampling, and mapping of historic mine adits and geophysical surveying. The NOI was approved for the 2022 field season and to date.
The U.S. Forest Service has not received a proposal to conduct mineral exploration in 2023.
"By law, processing locatable minerals plans is nondiscretionary for the Forest Service. Miners have possessory rights associated with mining claims which authorizes the miner the right to use the surface for mining purposes including use and occupancy necessary for processing," the release states.
Furthermore, "all miners are subject to 36 CFR 228 Subpart A including requirements to submit a plan of operations and post a reclamation bond. Prior to conducting any exploratory drilling, the companies would also need to obtain an Exploration License from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality."