(Reuters) - New mining claims should be banned for 20 years on more than 30,000 acres north of Yellowstone National Park to preserve scenery, wildlife habitat, waterways and outdoor recreation that fuels tourism in nearby Montana towns, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.
The recommendation to withdraw 30,370 acres of the Custer Gallatin National Forest from mineral development comes after two large gold-mining operations were proposed near Yellowstone, sparking opposition from conservationists and local businesses in an area known as Paradise Valley.
The controversial proposals were put on hold for at least two years in 2016 under the Obama administration, with officials saying more time was needed to conduct an environmental review. That study, released in May, supported continued restrictions on mining.
The original two-year moratorium is due to end Nov. 21. The Forest Service recommendation to protect the acreage for an additional two decades must be formally approved by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to go into effect. The proposed 20-year ban would not affect existing claims.
National forests fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Agriculture Department, but an Interior Department agency holds subsurface mineral rights to the area in question.
While Zinke, a former Montana congressman, has broadly promoted energy and mining activities on public lands since becoming interior secretary under President Donald Trump, he wrote on Twitter on Friday that he supported the mineral withdrawal in his home state.
“I’ve always said there are places where it is appropriate to mine and places where it isn’t,” he tweeted. “I’ve long fought to protect the Paradise Valley.”
Groups like the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition and the National Parks Conservation Association welcomed Friday’s announcement.
“The doorstep to the world’s first and one of its most beloved national parks is no place for industrial gold mining,” said the association’s Stephanie Adams.
The National Mining Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyo.; Editing by Steve Gorman and Diane Craft