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Feds reopen forests near Boundary Waters to mining

Sep 06, 2018 07:00PM ● By Editor
The sun sets as two paddlers make their way across Lac La Croix in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Trump administration canceled a study of a proposed 20-year mining ban within the BWCAW watershed, clearing the way for renewed mineral exploration. Nathaniel Minor | MPR News 2011

From Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio News - September 6, 2018

The Trump administration has canceled a study of a proposed 20-year mining ban within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, clearing the way for renewed mineral leasing within about 365 square miles of the Superior National Forest.

The so-called "mineral withdrawal" was first proposed during the waning days of the Obama administration over concern that potential mines in the Boundary Waters watershed "could lead to irreversible impacts upon natural resources," and result in "perpetual treatment of water discharge" at future mines.

Since that time, the federal Forest Service launched a study of the potential environmental impact of mining in the region, held two public hearings in Duluth and Ely, and received tens of thousands of public comments on the proposal.

The announcement doesn't open up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness itself to mineral exploration. But the 365 square miles in question are adjacent to the BWCAW and are within its watershed.

In a statement released Thursday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that analysis did not reveal any new scientific information.

The agency can both "protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities," he said.

The Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters is home to the Duluth Complex, believed to be one of the richest deposits of copper, nickel and precious metals in North America.

Mining companies have been exploring the region for decades.

A ban on mining has been lifted around the BWCAW
A ban on mining has been lifted around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the Superior National Forest. William Lager | MPR News

Twin Metals Minnesota is furthest along in its efforts to open a potential mine, an underground facility next to the Kawishiwi River near Ely.

Backers of mining argue it could jumpstart northeastern Minnesota's economy, creating potentially thousands of high paying jobs.

Opponents say that would come at the expense of the region's wilderness character and recreation-based economy and would threaten the pristine lakes of the Boundary Waters.

"The Trump Administration broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science," said Alex Falconer, Executive Director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

The group said the administration did not complete the study of the proposed mineral withdrawal, something Perdue had earlier promised to Congress.

Twin Metals Minnesota said it supported the administration's decision.

"This important action ensures that federal lands that have been open to responsible mining activity for decades will remain open," said CEO Kelly Osborne.

For more on this story, follow this link to the MPR website.

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