What happened to the Montana I used to know?

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Over spring break in 1993, a Montana Tech student was logging with his father. Working on the landing, he sensed that something wasn’t right. It turns out, his dad had fallen a tree that somehow ended up on his leg. The kid cut the tree off his dad, splinted his leg with branches and boot laces, dragged him through the snow on a skidder engine cover plate. This marked the end of a 30-year logging career. He said, if the busted leg hadn’t ended it, the environmental extremists would have. Timber sales on federal lands dried up years before as environmental groups challenged every project. Relying on his honest reputation, he could only find a few private sales close to home so, he sold his equipment and started working for someone else. It was a tough decision, but he had a family.

About the same time, another family story was unfolding. In 1994, a 34-year-old CPA took a job as CFO with Pegasus Gold. For the next three years, he made no decisions on which projects to invest in or how to mine them. In late 1997, gold prices fell and some of the mines were not performing. He lost faith in company leadership and was replaced in February 1998, as the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. With a family to support, he found a new position a month later.

What do these two, seemingly unrelated stories have in common? First, I personally know both men — one is my father and the other is Phil Baker, CEO of Hecla Mining Company. Second, both are victims of extreme environmental groups. Montanans are aware of how forest management has been obstructed and today key watersheds and critical wildlife habitats are destroyed by catastrophic wildfires. Also, most mining has been shut down and today the United States is mostly dependent on foreign countries for our strategic metals — countries with minimal environmental and worker safety standards. These metals are critical to our daily lives — used in cell phones, computers and the like. Ironically, responsible natural resource management is a cornerstone value to Montanans.

The recent assaults on the mining and Hecla are clearly politically motivated and extremely dishonest. Starting with the decision by DEQ, with coordinated press coverage and Op-Eds. No one knows how to pull together a coordinated disinformation campaign like professional environmentalists and their fundraisers.

To be clear, Hecla was never involved with any of Pegasus’ operations and Phil Baker was never named personally for its past obligations. Over its 127-years, Hecla has never declared bankruptcy, reorganized or changed its name to avoid responsibility for past practices. It has survived down swings in metals prices while being a leader in applying environmental protections. It has reclaimed many mine sites and paid its fair share of cleanup obligations. In Montana, its currently reclaiming the Troy Mine — a site that Hecla never operated. Many of these reclamation efforts have occurred under Phil Baker’s leadership. I know this since I have worked for Hecla for seven years, leading the reclamation efforts of the Troy mine.

Finally, the notion that Hecla should be held responsible for the decisions of Pegasus is as ridiculous as making Ford Motor Company recall and repair an AMC Pacer before it can sell the latest electric vehicle. So, let that sink in and then consider the real agenda going on here.

Doug Stiles is general manager for Revett Silver Company, a subsidiary of Hecla Mining Company.

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