Action Alert to Protect the Boundary Waters

Dispatch No. 12 from the Freemans' year in our nation's most popular wilderness area

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STORY BY AMY FREEMAN
PHOTOS BY DAVE FREEMAN

I have some big news and a call to action to report. While Dave and I have been out here in the BWCAW for the past 280 days working to protect it by keeping it in paddlers’ minds via social media and online dispatches, we must help highlight other key efforts to fight proposed sulfide-ore copper mines within the BWCAW’s watershed. And we just recently heard some game-changing news. Notice I said game-changing, not game-ending. The watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will not be protected unless folks like you (aka paddlers who love to paddle in beautiful, untrammeled wild places) take action. There is a public input period going on right now. You can easily make your voice heard by telling the U.S. Forest Service to protect the BWCAW HERE. Your deadline is July 20.

USFS

Now for an explanation of the recent development and urgent call to action … It all has to do with mineral leases within the Superior National Forest. Recently, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced it was considering protecting Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining by withholding consent to the renewal of two mineral leases. The leases, held by Twin Metals Minnesota (owned by the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta) expired on Dec. 31, 2013, are up for renewal. While the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the holder of the Twin Metals leases, the land in question is in the Superior National Forest, the USFS has a right of consent to any lease renewal. The BLM recently asked the USFS whether it would grant or withhold consent for renewal of the leases.

These mineral leases held by Twin Metals were issued in 1966, before any environmental regulations existed, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the law that requires environmental impacts to be considered before decisions are made where mines can be sited. These leases have never undergone enviromental review. No wonder the USFS had this to say about the leases: “A final determination on consent has not been made. However, the Forest Service is deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within the watershed. Those risks exist during all phases of mine development, implementation and long-term closure and remediation. Potential impacts to water resources include changes in water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage, and seepage of tailings water, tailings basin failures and waste rock treatment locations. Based on these concerns, the Forest Service is considering withholding consent for lease renewal.”

This is where you come in. While the USFS considers withholding consent on the leases, it is allowing public input before any final decision is made. That public input time began on June 20 that will last for 30 days, hence your July 20 deadline. Also, an open house will be held today (July 13) at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth, Minnesota. Dave and I wish we could be there, but we’ll still be in the BWCAW.

In addition to denying the leases, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is also urging the USFS to ask Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to withdraw the federally owned minerals within the Boundary Waters watershed from the federal mineral leasing program. This would protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining for 20 years.

In summary, I think Becky Rom, National Chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said it best: “The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder and key driver of the economy of Northern Minnesota. In recognizing the incredible value of the Wilderness and the dangers posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, the Forest Service’s announcement is an important acknowledgement about the need to protect the Boundary Waters.”

Remember, the public input period began on June 20, 2016 and runs through July 20, 2016. You can follow THIS LINK to submit your input. The listening session will be held today (July 13, 2016) at the DECC in Duluth, Minnesota.

— Dave and Amy Freeman have been sending in Dispatches from their #WildernessYear in the Boundary Waters. (Read more about their adventures, including: Canoeing with Dogs, Tips and Tricks for adhering to key rules in the BWCAW, canoeing through the recent spring Ice-out, Finding Reasons to Rejoice, Holidays in the Boundary Waters, Ice Canoeing, The Freeze Begins, The Slow Way and Canoeing with the Next Generation.)

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— Learn more about the mining threat at SavetheBoundaryWaters.org, and check out the Freemans' educational info at WildernessClassroom.com, or follow updates at #SavetheBWCA and #WildernessYear.