Photo by Aaron Schmidt.
Press Release from Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Ely, MN—Today, guided by science and public opinion, federal agencies charged with stewardship of taxpayer-owned public lands denied the renewal of two mineral leases adjacent to Minnesota's iconic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and upstream of Voyageurs National Park. The decision halts a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine project from destroying the clean waters of America's most popular wilderness area – a prime hunting, fishing and recreation destination that helps support 17,000 jobs and drive $850 million in economic activity annually. Sixty-seven percent of Minnesotans opposed the project.
In addition, federal land managers announced they will begin a comprehensive environmental review to determine whether the watershed of the BWCA is the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining and should be removed from the federal mining program altogether. Numerous scientific studies show the dramatic risk such a mine would pose to the water-intensive, ecologically sensitive wilderness of the Boundary Waters. Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesotans support such a study.
This past summer, more than 74,000 people and 200 sportsmen's organizations, businesses, and conservation groups sent letters expressing support for not renewing the expired Twin Metals leases and protecting the BWCA watershed. Rural communities in particular benefit from recreation in U.S. National Forests, which nationally drive $11 billion in consumer spending within 50 miles of forest boundaries.
"The Boundary Waters is a special place for Minnesotans who love hunting, fishing and recreation and who depend on thousands of jobs sustained by America's most-popular wilderness," said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. "Science has clearly shown that copper mining would inflict devastating harm on this priceless wilderness. Today's decision reflects strong support from a majority of Minnesotans who want to prioritize the wide-ranging value our communities gain from a healthy Boundary Waters, rather than open an industrial mining zone less than a mile from the wilderness edge."
Rom added: "It's a strong first step, but there is still a lot of work to do to ensure we can protect the BWCA for future generations. Our coalition keeps growing as sportsmen, veterans, businesses and other interests sign on to support our efforts."
Expired mineral leases held by Twin Metals were initially issued in 1966, before modern American environmental laws existed, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the law that requires environmental impacts to be considered before decisions are made regarding where mines can be sited. As a result, these leases never underwent environmental review.
The environmental review will be a comprehensive, watershed level analysis that will look at the value of the land and water, including their economic, social and cultural importance. The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a wild landscape of lakes, streams, woods, and wildlife covering 1.1 million acres along the Canadian border. It is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the United States, attracting more than 250,000 visitors each year from all over the world.
These decisions only affect proposed copper nickel mining in the Boundary Waters watershed and will not affect Minnesota's taconite industry. Taconite and other iron deposits are in a different geography and in a different type of ore.
Sulfide-ore copper mining – one of the most toxic industries in America– has never been done before in Minnesota. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a broad national coalition of business people, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists, and others that was founded by residents of Ely, Minnesota in 2013. The Campaign works to protect the interests of the people of the United States in a healthy Boundary Waters Wilderness. A strong majority of Minnesotans opposed the Twin Metals project, including 61 percent of residents in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District (which includes the Iron Range and Duluth).
— For the last several years expedition paddlers Dave and Amy Freeman have been working to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining by paddling from Minnesota to the White House in Washington D.C. in a petition-canoe and by spending a full year paddling the area for their #WildernessYear. We’ve covered both trips extensively on CanoeKayak.com