Montana’s Otter Creek Valley and Its Wildlife Need Your Help

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting comments from the public on the proposed Otter Creek coal mine in southeastern Montana. Arch Coal, the second largest coal company in the nation, wants to strip mine the valley for coal and is asking DEQ to give them a permit. The deadline for comments is March 6, 2013.

The wildlife that live in this valley need your voice.

Otter Creek
Otter Creek Photo credit: Kestrel Air Services (MEIC)

Why Otter Creek and Its Wildlife Need You

Take a minute and look at the above photo of the Otter Creek valley in southeastern Montana. The creek meanders down from Custer National Forest mountains and eventually drains into the Tongue River. A Northern Cheyenne friend of mine told me that all the names of the creeks and valleys are descriptive names and that Otter Creek was most likely named after the river otters that used to live there.

Bull Elk
Bull Elk. Photo Credit Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
This is a valley and a region rich in wildlife. Mule deer, white-tail deer, pronghorn antelope, elk and hundreds of bird species including eagles and owls call it home. It is also adjacent to a black-footed ferret reintroduction site on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. It is beautiful and remote and has immense historical and cultural resources as many different tribes moved through the area for thousands and thousands of years to live and hunt.

Now imagine if the state of Montana allows Arch Coal to mine the valley.  Arch will blast the land with dynamite to loosen the top soil and then bring in massive drag lines and heavy equipment to remove it. This equipment will be loud. The earth will shake with cast blasting, sometimes causing toxic orange clouds to form. They will build new roads, fragmenting intact habitat. Wildlife-vehicle collisions will increase due to the thousands of additional vehicles and trucks that will be on the rural highways in southeastern Montana. They will dig the coal up, put it in trucks and then load it on to a train to ship it to Asia.

Wildlife will be displaced from the valley, impacted by the noise, pollution and traffic. Streams and springs will be destroyed or depleted leaving wildlife with fewer options for a water source. Groundwater will be depleted which will impact agricultural wells, perennial springs and instream flows into the Tongue River. Invasive weeds will be introduced leaving less forage for wildlife. Habitat will be fragmented. There will be more wildfires due to sparks from coal trains. Poaching will increase due to increased access from new roads. Sacred sites and burial sites of Native American Tribes will be destroyed.

We also know that the mining and burning of this coal will contribute billions of tons of carbon into our atmosphere, harming wildlife and people.

These impacts are not just possible if a mine is built, they are inevitable.

Map of potential Otter Creek Mine
Map of Otter Creek coal tracts

How you can help

Currently, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comments on what should be included in their draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).  We need many voices, from around the country, to speak for the wildlife. It is imperative that we keep this coal in the ground.

You can tell the state of Montana what you think they should include in their study of this proposed mine.

1.  You can submit your comments to the state of Montana.


Kristi Ponozo
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620

2. You can help NWF keep this coal in the ground.

Become a member or donate today.

3. You can join us online in our efforts to spread the word about NWF’s Tribal Lands Partnerships Program. 

Here’s our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter @NWFTribalLands to keep up on the lastest news.

If you need help submitting comments or want more information about the the proposed Otter Creek mine and its impacts on wildlife, please contact me at