Well, here we are again: the federal government is attempting to authorize harmful copper mines in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This area represents America’s most visited Wilderness Area, 20% of the fresh water in the National Forest system (which comes out to roughly 4% of all the fresh water in the US), a tremendous economic contributor for Minnesota, and 1.1 million acres of unmolested forests and waterways. Yet, as immensely important as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is, the Trump administration recently renewed mining leases in this region–despite substantial opposition.
A couple weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management renewed mineral leases next to the BWCA for Twin Metals, a new standard under the current administration’s agenda. This approval, which goes against historic norms of preserving this region, an Obama-era decision, and nearly 180,000 documented critics of opening up the BWCA to potentially disastrous mining operations. The longstanding commitment to preserving this pristine and locally important region has now been replaced by the Trump administration’s agenda of natural resource extraction at the expense of outdoor recreation.
While Twin Metals’ mining project is still in its initial application and planning stages, the threat to this ecosystem and the dependent outdoor recreation economy is imminent. Sulfide-Ore Copper mines, which are what Twin Metals intends to propose, are notoriously destructive to environments. As the mining activities progress and material is extracted, the likelihood of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) increases. AMD is produced when mine tailings (mine waste) are exposed to water and oxygen, becoming very environmentally toxic. Historically, AMD has destroyed previously-pristine waterways all over the planet because it is difficult to contain and remediate. Additionally, tailing containment failures are common, and, in many instances throughout America, the clean-up and restoration efforts are left to taxpayers.
Yet, the Trump administration continue to facilitate mining operations in vulnerable and pristine areas. Currently, the BWCA provides outdoor recreation for nearly 150,000 people, subsequently injecting millions of dollars into Minnesota’s economy. This is an example of a renewable and stable economic contribution; whereas, “Erratic boom and bust cycles associated with mining would have economic costs, as well, as they would create instability in the labor markets and increase strain on public services,” wrote Dr. S. Phillips, who highlights the positive economic value of outdoor recreation and clean, functioning environments.
Twin Metals is now expected to produce a preliminary mining plan by the end of this year. Then, the environmental impact statement process will begin. Given this rapid reversal carried out by the Trump administration, the BWCA could go through substantial change and face significant threats in the coming years. However, opposition to this potential mining project is strong and growing. For example, in 2017 when the U.S. Forest Service was considering withdrawing portions of mineral leases in the BWCA watershed, “approximately 98% of the over 180,000 comments received favored withdrawal.”
If you–like thousands of Americans–hold Minnesota’s BWCA dear to your heart or enjoy pristine wilderness and waters, check out Save The Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters to learn how to help and more information on the issue. Mining and extracting metals such as copper is necessary for our society, but there are places and ways to do it; within the BWCA watershed is not the place. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a national treasure, not an expendable resource–it must be preserved and enjoyed by thousands of Americans in its natural state.
This article was written by Conservation Editor, Will Poston.