Time running out to keep Minnesota's Boundary Waters clean—speak up today

The watershed of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness could be threatened by mining operations.

Credit: Courtney Celley (USFWS), flickr.

Aug. 11 is the deadline for the public to weigh in on whether future mining should be allowed in the famed Boundary Waters’ watershed.

We are nearing the end of an extended comment period to determine the near future of one of America's most visited and best loved wilderness areas. 

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture halted the renewal of leases for sulfide-ore mining in the watershed of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The much celebrated decision triggered a process of evaluating whether to entirely halt mining near the Boundary Waters over the next two decades, thus preventing contamination of the wilderness’ lakes and rivers. The current phase of that process—when the public can submit comments to the Forest Service—ends on Aug. 11. We need to let them know that dirty mining doesn't belong near the Boundary Waters.

Take action: Protect the Boundary Waters from mining

Once the U.S. Forest Service has finished collecting comments, it will take the next two years to produce a final "environmental impact statement" to inform its decision on whether to bar mining in the area over the next 20 years. This is a crucial time to make our voices heard and ensure mining doesn’t happen here. 

Mining would threaten the Boundary Waters’ watershed 

The original leases at issue are part of the Twin Metals proposal, a venture of a Chile-based company to extract copper, nickel and other metals near the town of Ely, which lies within a few miles of the wilderness area’s southwest boundary. The intent of the project is to derive these minerals from ore that contains sulfide, a process that can discharge sulfuric acid, sulfates and heavy metals (some of which are highly toxic) into water. Experts say that sulfide-ore mining in the Boundary Waters’ watershed could contaminate the wilderness’ lakes and rivers, potentially also affecting Voyageurs National Park. Adding to these concerns is the sulfide-ore copper mining industry’s  poor safety record.  

 Credit: Sarah Cady, flickr.

To access ore near the Boundary Waters, Twin Metals asked the Bureau of Land Management to renew two federal mineral leases that predate laws requiring environmental review of mining plans. Local business-owners and others argued that outdoor recreation business would be jeopardized by mining, and one study projected losses of hundreds of millions of dollars of annual income in the region if the project were allowed to move forward. The late 2016 decision to deny renewal of leases cited likely impacts on the recreation economy. 

The Boundary Waters is among America’s most popular wilderness areas 

Nestled in the northern portion of the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is often cited as the most visited federal wilderness area in the U.S., and for good reason. Boasting 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 18 hiking trails and nearly 2,200 campsites, it is a well-trod outdoor recreation hotspot that draws everyone from dog-sledders to kayakers. 

 Credit: Sarah Cady, flickr.

But despite its popularity, the Boundary Waters retains a wild, natural character. Rugged cliffs, rolling hills, canyon walls, rocky shores and sandy beaches hug more than 1,000 lakes varying in size from 10 to 10,000 acres. Spots for solitude and reflection are plentiful, and the wilderness contains habitat for wildlife like gray wolves, lynx, otters and black bears

All this makes the years-long campaign to mine metals from sulfide-bearing ore near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness especially problematic. Now is the time so stand up and make our voices heard.