US officials on Monday blocked new mining claims outside Yellowstone National Park as the Obama administration races in its last days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas. Mining claims on 30,370 acres north of the nation's first national park would be prohibited for at least two years while a long-term ban is considered, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said during a visit to Montana's scenic Paradise Valley. She hiked a rocky trail to examine the landscape surrounding one of the mining sites. Interior officials last week blocked new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean and canceled 25 oil and gas leases in western Colorado and 15 in northwestern Montana, the AP reports.
Republicans and industry representatives have criticized the administration's 11th-hour actions to limit development. They've promised to seek their reversal once Obama leaves office and Donald Trump takes charge of the White House. The latest move came after a pair of gold exploration proposals north of Yellowstone drew strong opposition from business owners, environmentalists, and Montana elected officials. Local officials worry mining could hurt an economy heavily dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation. Jewell said the recent actions were in the works well before the election and the administration was seeking merely to wrap up its long-standing agenda before leaving office in early January. (Read more Yellowstone National Park stories.)