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Group wraps effort to stop Yellowstone mining

| June 16, 2010 9:00 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A conservation group said Tuesday that it has finalized the purchase of mining claims north of Yellowstone National Park, a deal that wraps up the effort to protect the area from the New World Mine first proposed 20 years ago.

The Trust for Public Land said it has bought the last 772 acres of mining claims from private owners. The group said the claims were the biggest loose end remaining in the two-decade battle to prevent large-scale development on the park's border.

"As far as the New World Mine controversy goes, this is the absolute final chapter," said Alex Diekmann, a project manager for TPL.

The U.S. Forest Service has also been working on a decade-long restoration of more than a dozen former gold, lead and silver mines next to Yellowstone National Park and near Cooke City, Mont.

Crown Butte Mines first proposed the mine in 1990 but dropped its plans in 1996 as part of a federal settlement. The state of Montana received the Otter Creek coal tracts as part of that settlement, and it recently agreed to lease the tracts this year for millions of dollars.

The New World Mine proposal even prompted the United Nations to place Yellowstone National Park on its worldwide list of endangered sites. It removed the park a few years after the broad settlement plan was first announced.

The Trust for Public Land said it bought the first half of the private claims from the estate of the late Margaret Reeb last year, and the second piece in the deal announced Tuesday.

The conservation group said that a total of $8 million will be used from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The move was applauded by Democratic U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, who have advocated for the federal funding of the preservation effort.

"After more than two decades of tireless efforts by hundreds of dedicated people, TPL has done an outstanding job of pushing the ball across the goal line," Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Mike Clark said in a news release. "This deal finally closes the book on one of the greatest threats to the integrity of one of the world's most beloved parks."

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