[UPDATE: The U.S. Dept. of the Interior will be accepting public comments on a proposal to renew two mining leases adjacent to the Boundary Waters through Jan. 30, 2019.]
Every year, over 150,000 people flock to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to enjoy its world-class recreational opportunities including 1200 miles of canoe and kayak routes, 237.5 miles of overnight hiking trails, 2000 designated campsites and 1.1 million acres of protected forest.
Unfortunately, trouble could be on the horizon for this pristine paddler’s paradise.
On December 20, the Trump Administration's U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it will renew Chilean mining giant Antofagasta's Twin Metals mining leases for a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine along the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake. The initial 30-day review period has been extended to run through January 30. (Comment here).
The proposed mine is located upstream from the Boundary Waters, with the South Kawishiwi River flowing straight into the heart of the BWCA. Because of this close proximity, there is legitimate concern that toxic pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining could drain into and permanently pollute lakes and rivers in the Boundary Waters for hundreds of years, disrupting the surrounding ecosystem.
Subjecting the BWCA’s impeccably clean waterways to possible contamination is a dangerous and perplexing move, especially considering it would be for the benefit of a foreign mining company. And while Twin Metals claims the mines will bring 400 new jobs to the area, more than 5000 people earn their livelihoods from tourism to the Boundary Waters.
Not surprisingly, locals and BWCA advocates are speaking out against the move.
Last month, 40 young students from around the country flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress, stakeholders, and policymakers in federal agencies, including Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, to advocate protecting Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness from mining. Then after the Trump Administration announced plans to renew the mining leases, the kids sent Bernhardt a letter expressing their disappointment.
They are not alone.
Last summer, two Minnesota canoe manufacturers joined other BWCA outfitters, organizations and nonprofits to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior. The lawsuit challenged a BLM decision to lease mining rights to Twin Metals in spite of the fact that the U.S. Forest Service Superior rejected the mining proposal in 2016, explaining, “Acid mine drainage is a significant environmental risk at sulfide ore mine sites, and as the Boundary Waters is a water-based ecosystem, contaminated water could have dramatic impacts to aquatic life, sport fisheries, and recreation-based communities.”
With only a few days before the review period closes, time is running out to make your voice heard about this critical issue concerning one of America’s favorite paddling playgrounds.