SILVER CITY, S.D. -- A Minnesota company plans to conduct exploratory drilling for gold near Silver City in the central portion of the Black Hills National Forest, while two other companies have withdrawn proposals to drill on forest land.

Big Rock Exploration, of Minneapolis, has submitted a proposed plan of operations for the Silver City area, said Mark Van Every, the forest supervisor. He divulged some information about the plan Wednesday, Feb. 20, during a meeting of the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board at the Mystic Ranger District Office in Rapid City.

Van Every said the company wants to drill about 40 holes on national forest land. The proposed drill sites are near the west end of the Pactola Reservoir, in an area accessible by roads, including Jenney Gulch Road and Sunnyside Gulch Road.

Forest Service officials are working on an agreement that would require the company to fund an environmental analysis, said Van Every, who added that it could be six months or more before that analysis is complete and a plan of operations is approved.

Federal mining laws do not allow the Forest Service to reject an exploratory drilling project. The Forest Service, which controls the surface rights, may only analyze the project and place conditions on it. The agency will work in conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls the mineral rights below the surface.

No further information was immediately available about the Big Rock exploration plan.

Meanwhile, Van Every said, a Canadian company that had been conducting exploratory gold drilling on privately owned land in the Rochford area has paused its project and has suspended its plan to conduct additional drilling on national forest land.

Van Every said that company, Mineral Mountain Resources, is in a fundraising phase after completing its initial round of drilling. According to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that initial round included at least nine holes on private land. Because the company is no longer pursuing approval of a plan of operations for additional drilling on federal land, Van Every said Forest Service officials will stop work on their analysis of that proposed plan.

Van Every also said Wednesday that another company recently expressed interest in conducting exploratory gold drilling in the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills National Forest, but the company decided not to pursue that project.

Gold exploration and mining have been ongoing in the Black Hills since the 1870s. Major mines have included the former Homestake Mine, parts of which are now being used for deep underground science experiments, and the former Gilt Edge Mine, which was abandoned and is undergoing a cleanup led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The only active, large-scale gold mine in the Black Hills is the Wharf Mine, which is near Terry Peak and yielded 95,372 ounces of gold in 2017 for its owner, Coeur Mining, headquartered in Chicago.