The overwhelming sentiment in the public meeting room in Hamilton last week was one of concern. Residents of the Bitterroot Valley were there to watch the documentary “Sagebrush Gold” about the problems brought about by a lithium mine in a Nevada desert. Foremost on most peoples’ minds, however, was the mineral exploration taking place near the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and whether their community will face a similar fate.

Last April, US Critical Materials (USCM) and US Critical Metals notified the U.S. Forest Service of their intent to begin exploring for minerals near Sheep Creek where the two corporations hold hundreds of mining claims. Sheep Creek sits high in the Bitterroot watershed above Painted Rocks Reservoir and near the Idaho border. On its website, USCM promotes Sheep Creek as “one of the highest grade rare earth projects in the United States.”