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Locations: Opinion Published

Guest opinion by Chad Reich and Julie Nania of High Country Conservation Advocates

We know that many of you in the Roaring Fork Valley are following or involved in the federal mineral withdrawal which would protect the Thompson Divide from the effects of oil and gas drilling. The iconic massif Mt. Emmons — also known as Red Lady — towers above the Town of Crested Butte. For the past 46 years, the community, led by High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), has successfully staved off a massive molybdenum mine which would devastate our water supply. The battle cry of this campaign is: “Save Red Lady!” 

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HCCA is a Crested Butte-based environmental advocacy nonprofit, much like Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale. We work together on several projects that overlap the divide. For example, the same mineral withdrawal that will protect Thompson Divide from drilling will also protect Red Lady from future mining leases. 

Our focus is not solely on Red Lady. Our water program works on things like instream flows and collaborative planning processes that protect some water in streams for our fish. Our public lands program keeps an eye on proposed extractive projects and advocates for landscape-level conservation. Our growing stewardship program builds climate change resiliency by bringing up the water table, restoring wildlife habitat — including that of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse — and increasing wildfire, flood and drought resiliency. And, of course, there’s the Save Red Lady campaign. 

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Red Lady rises from the western edge of Crested Butte’s scenic National Historic District. The sentinel massif is beyond scenic; it’s home to hiking, backcountry skiing, wildlife and a sense of “the wild” just miles from the town’s core. Red Lady has been the target of three mining proposals dating back to 1977, and we’ve successfully held off extraction of the molybdenum ore body up to modern times. 

In order to put an end to this 46-year effort, we need to continue to work with our partners including the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), local government and other nonprofits. Through a collaborative process, our long-standing goals will finally be achieved. 

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The first condition is a mineral withdrawal that will protect the Thompson Divide as well as lands surrounding Red Lady. Withdrawing these lands is essential to prohibit them from being used as part of a mine’s footprint (MEMC intends to relinquish claims that they hold within this area). 

Of course it’s complicated, and there are two types of mineral withdrawals currently on the table. The first is an administrative mineral withdrawal put into action by the Biden administration and currently under review by the BLM and USFS. This administrative withdrawal will give both Red Lady and Thompson Divide two decades of protection. The second is a provision in the CORE Act that would enact a legislative mineral withdrawal forever. We’re pursuing both of these opportunities.

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The second condition involves removing the molybdenum ore body from development. This condition will be met by implementing conservation easements and enacting a mineral extinguishment agreement prohibiting mining. MEMC will sign these documents once a federal land exchange is completed. The federal land exchange is currently under USFS review. 

The third condition involves MEMC’s water rights. The company has conditional rights to a large amount of water that it would take to run the mine. Now that they no longer intend to mine, MEMC only needs enough water to perform reclamation of historic mining activities. Our ideal resolution is that MEMC keeps only the water necessary for reclamation while the remainder of their water rights remain in local waterways. 

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We at HCCA stand in solidarity with the Roaring Fork Valley’s efforts to protect their public lands! Please remember that your efforts are felt in our community and our headwaters as well. We’re in this together, so keep up the good fight.

Tags: #BLM #Chad Reich #Crested Butte #High Country Conservation Advocates #Julie Nania #Mt. Emmons #Red Lady #USFS
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