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Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service Commit to Study Mining Impacts in Pactola Reservoir – Rapid Creek Watershed in the Black Hills

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Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the USDA Forest Service announced a proposal to protect cultural and natural resources in the Pactola Reservoir – Rapid Creek Watershed, including drinking water for Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base, from the adverse impacts of mineral exploration and development. The Pactola Reservoir is the largest and deepest reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest, with 14 miles of shoreline and 150-foot depths on 800 acres. The reservoir also provides high-quality recreation for communities and visitors.

In response to concerns about potential impacts of mining on the area’s natural resources and municipal water supply, the administration is initiating consideration of a 20-year withdrawal of this critical watershed on national forest system lands from location, entry, appropriation, and disposal under the mining laws and the mineral and geothermal leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights.

The USDA Forest Service submitted the withdrawal application to the BLM, which processes withdrawal applications on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. The BLM’s acceptance of the application and publication of a notice in the Federal Register in the coming days will initiate a two-year segregation that will prohibit the location of new mining claims and the issuance of new federal mineral leases within 20,574 acres within the Pactola Reservoir – Rapid Creek Watershed. During this time, the BLM and the Forest Service will seek public comment and conduct a science-based environmental analysis to evaluate the potential impacts of mining on the important natural and cultural resources of the watershed.

Publication of the Federal Register notice on March 21 will also initiate a 90-day public review period for the proposed withdrawal and additional analysis during the segregation period that will include Tribal consultation and further public involvement, including public meetings. This process will invite participation by the public, Tribes, state, and local government, as well as other stakeholders interested in the stewardship of these lands and waters. The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to withdraw these lands for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal; only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.

“The BLM is pleased to work with the USDA Forest Service on this effort,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “This proposal will help protect a primary source of drinking water for South Dakotans as the Forest Service assesses a 20-year withdrawal.”

“The Pactola Reservoir and the Rapid Creek watershed provides drinking water for Pennington County, Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base, representing the second largest population center in South Dakota” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The Pactola Reservoir area includes valued cultural and natural resources important to tribes and local communities. We’re going to study the feasibility of withdrawing lands in the area because any activity that might affect these critical resources deserves a thorough review.”

Responsible development of domestic mineral supplies is important to transitioning to a clean energy economy. The study and two-year segregation will give the Administration the opportunity to fully support science-based decision-making and sustainable domestic mineral development while protecting natural resources for the future.

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