Letters From the West

Mining company begins drilling on Lemhi Pass

"...after refreshing ourselves we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow . . . here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia river," Meriwether Lewis, 1805

“…after refreshing ourselves we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow . . . here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia river,” Meriwether Lewis, 1805(USDA photo)

An exploration company plans to begin drilling on Lemhi Pass today looking for rare earth minerals that are critical to the renewable energy industry.

U.S. Rare Earths, with mining claims in Idaho, Montana, and Colorado, announced it got a permit to drill in the Last Chance region on the Montana side of the Lemhi Pass.  The pass, east of Salmon,  is where Lewis and Clark crossed in Idaho and the west slope of the Continental Divide in 1805.

The Department of Energy says Lemhi Pass is a important area for Dysprosium, Europium, Neodymium, Terbium and Yttrium, minerals it says are at critical risk.

Most of the rare earth minerals mined in the world are from China. Both the House and the Senate are studying whether to start having the government stockpile the minerals critical to some advanced weapons systems, mobile devices and other electronic devices, to give incentives for mining.

Rare earth minerals contain the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium, elements known as rare earth. They aren’t really rare but are expensive to mine because it takes mining a lot of rock to get to them.

“Last Chance may be the premier area in the Lemhi Pass,” said Kevin Cassidy, CEO and Director of U.S. Rare Earths

With the Last Chance permit, U.S. Rare Earths now has drill permits for six of their properties across spanning across three states.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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