The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not need to take into account the effects of a future mine when it approved Constantine Metal Resources’ permit to conduct Palmer Project exploration work, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said in an opinion published Friday, which upholds the 2019 ruling of the federal District Court in Alaska.

In December 2017, the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan and three environmental groups—Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and Rivers Without Borders—filed a lawsuit against the BLM for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the process of permit approval. NEPA requires federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of any proposed action, including permit approval, before they move forward. The plaintiffs said BLM should have considered the impacts of a fully developed mine before approving Constantine’s permit.

During oral arguments, Earthjustice attorney Erin Whalen, representing the plaintiffs, cited Conner v. Burford, a court case from the 1980s that said, “the government must complete an (Environmental Impact Statement) before it makes an irretrievable commitment of resources.”

Whalen said Constantine is approaching the point of no return with respect to mine development under the General Mining Act of 1872, which says if a site contains a deposit that can be profitably marketed, the citizen or firm that made the discovery secures the “right to mine” regardless of most other uses of the land.

In the opinion, 9th Circuit justices Morgan Christen, Paul Watford and Bridget Bade said, “Appellants fail to demonstrate that NEPA’s timeliness provisions required BLM to consider the environmental impacts of the future development of a mine on the Palmer Project prior to approving Intervenors’ exploration plans.”

Although BLM’s approval makes it more likely that a discovery will be made, “appellants do not demonstrate that such a discovery is imminent,” the opinion reads.

Constantine representatives said they were pleased with the outcome of the case.

“Although we agree with the Bureau of Land Management and Ninth Circuit decision that the potential impacts of a future mine did not need to be considered to approve the current exploration work, we recognize the importance of ongoing scientific studies and stakeholder discussions during the exploration process,” Constantine community liaison and advisor Liz Cornejo said in a written statement.

Cornejo said most of the exploration work that was subject to the lawsuit—roughly two and a half miles of road building on BLM land—has already been completed.

Representatives from Chilkat Indian Village and the three environmental organizations said they were disappointed by the outcome of the court case, but they will continue to work to oppose the Palmer Project.

“As disappointing as the Ninth Circuit decision is, it will not stop us from the battle to protect the Chilkat River, which is so very vital to our traditional subsistence lifestyle that we have treasured for at least two millennia. We are so mandated to protect this precious lifestyle that it runs through our very veins. We will and must continue,” Chilkat Indian Village vice president Jones Hotch Jr. said.

Constantine’s 2020 Palmer Project field work season began in early August, according to a Sept. 2 press release. The field work represents the major portion of the company’s $2.15 million budget for 2020.