Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - A company called U.S. Critical Materials has filed a Notice of Intent to explore for rare earth minerals in the historic Sheep Creek Columbite Deposit mine site in the West Fork Ranger District within the Bitterroot National Forest.

Their website states that "US Critical Materials Sheep Creek Property has the highest rare earth grades in the US averaging 9% per cent (90,000 parts per million). The deposit contains at least thirteen of the “critical risk” minerals defined by the current administration."

'I spoke with Dan Pliley, West Fork District Ranger this week about the Notice of Intent.

“U.S. Critical Materials is the name of the company that doing mineral exploration in the Sheep Creek area on the very southern end of the West Fork drainage just south of Painted Rocks Lake,” began Pliley. “This is the third year that they've done this, and they're doing hand tool exploration. They're taking rock chip samples, stream sediment samples, and are doing some geologic mapping on just over 300 claims that they have in that area.”

The Company will First Use Hand Tool Exploration

Pliley said the minerals are highly sought after worldwide for a number of uses that are rapidly growing in importance around the world.

“They're looking at potentially 13 of the 17 rare earth elements that would go to support things such as defense materials, the producing of electric vehicles, and a lot of green energy (products). These are highly sought after minerals. The claim says that they have some of the highest grade and the highest quantities in at least North America if not the entire continent.”

Pliley said proponents and opponents of mining the area understand the importance of the rare earth minerals in the area.

Rare Earth Minerals are Highly Sought After around the World

“I think the understanding is that (the minerals) need to come from somewhere but I think largely it's a question is where's the right place,” he asked. “So that's come as a resounding statement from the folks I've spoken with just in the public about this. They understand the need, but they're very concerned about the natural resources and impact that this (mining operation) could bring.”

Pliley said he is well aware of the opposition to the proposed mining operations that will come forward if approved.

Opposition to Mining will come from Environmentalists and Sportsmen Groups

“There is a grassroots movement, if you will, throughout the Bitterroot that expressed opposition,” he said. “We have a lot of natural resources in the area; there are concerns about water quality and terrestrial species and fish that a lot of people are concerned about. It's a beautiful area. We have the West Fork of the Bitterroot as it joins the East Fork and ends up the main Bitterroot River and then on to the Clark Fork and beyond.”

A press release stated that “to date, the Bitterroot National Forest has not received a plan of operations which would detail further exploration which would be likely to cause significant disturbance.”

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