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Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte on Thursday introduced two bills in the U.S. House of Representatives that would ban mining operations on public land in the Paradise Valley and conserve a portion of East Rosebud Creek.

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act withdraws mineral rights from federal land in Paradise Valley. The East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would conserve a portion of the creek north of Yellowstone National Park under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Congress created the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 to preserve certain rivers for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

In a release announcing the mining ban bill, Gianforte said Yellowstone National Park is a vital part of Montana’s overall $6 billion recreation and tourism industry. Withdrawing mineral rights on public lands, the release said, will not impact public access to those lands.

Gianforte said the consensus of the Paradise Valley community was clear, which is why he introduced the legislation.

“A permanent ban on mining in Paradise Valley will protect this natural treasure, Montana jobs and our way of life for generations to come,” he said.

In a separate release announcing legislation to conserve a portion of the East Rosebud Creek, Gianforte touted some of his top priorities. He said being responsive to local community needs, strengthening the state’s economy and protecting the Montana way of life were at the top of that list.

“In some areas, the best use of our natural resources and treasures is conservation and recreation,” Gianforte said.

Shortly after the announcement of the two bills, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition released a statement welcoming the legislation that would protect the park. The organization’s mission is to protect the land, water and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Caroline Byrd, executive director for the coalition, said the organization supports the two common-sense bills that, when passed, would keep mines away from Yellowstone’s gateway and keep East Rosebud Creek both scenic and wild. In a release, Byrd thanked Gianforte for the two bills, which, she said, have near-unanimous support in the state.

“He has listened to Montanans who’ve asked him to introduce these clean companion bills in the House, to mirror popular bills that have already been introduced in the Senate,” she said.

Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester proposed a bill in the Senate earlier this year that would ban new mining claims on 30,000 acres of federal land near where two mining companies plan to look for gold in the mountains east of Paradise Valley. The withdrawal area is next to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and within a few miles of Yellowstone National Park.

Tester and Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines also sponsored a bill to designate portions of the East Rosebud Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall said the House and Senate version of the two pieces of legislation are companion bills and have the same language.

In a statement to the Chronicle, Tester said he was glad to see Gianforte listened to local businesses and families in the Paradise Valley. He said he would work with Gianforte to move a bipartisan bill forward.

“There are just some places that we shouldn’t mine, and a large-scale mine on the doorstep of Yellowstone Park will hurt the economy and chase jobs out of Park County,” Tester said.

Mining in the Paradise Valley became a sticking point for the state’s delegation when two gold mining companies in 2015 announced exploratory drilling plans in the area. British Columbia-based Lucky Minerals Inc. has asked the state for permission to drill holes on private land in Emigrant Gulch, and Spokane, Washington-base Crevice wants to look for gold on Crevice Mountain near Jardine. Neither company has yet obtained permission from the state to start drilling.

Locals and environmentalists have been fighting against the two mining companies since their plans were announced. They argue the two mines could harm wildlife and water quality and could harm the region’s tourism-based economy.

Daines introduced a bill last week that would eliminate wilderness study area designations on nearly 450,000 acres of federal land in the state. The bill would release five wilderness study areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

In a recent report, Daines said that releasing the study areas might help advance the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act and may help forge bipartisan support for that measure.

Asked if Gianforte’s bills were tied to Daines’ legislation to release Wilderness Study Areas, Hall said, “Greg’s focus is on moving forward with the two bills he introduced on Thursday.”

Northern Rockies Director of American Rivers Scott Bosse said his organization has been working to protect the East Rosebud Creek since 2009, when a dam was proposed on it. He said he’s confident that the legislation would pass because every member of Montana’s delegation has supported it since it was first introduced in 2014.

“Often times it takes several attempts to pass, but a bill with this much support is inevitably going to pass,” Bosse said.

The ban wouldn’t directly impact the mining companies hoping to drill there now. Existing mining claims wouldn’t be affected, and both companies have already staked claims on federal land. But the opponents of the two mining companies support the ban because they believe it would hamper the companies’ ability to expand.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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