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Minnesota Bill Could Open Up Boundary Waters Canoe Area For Mining

October 18, 2012
Minnesota Bill Could Open Up Boundary Waters Canoe Area For Mining - 12

Let's play a little word association game. I'll write some words, you then immediately say the first words that come to mind when reading them...

The Boundary Waters.

Obviously, I can't hear what you're saying. But I bet I can guess a few of the words that came to mind.

Pristine. Clean. Clear. Wild. Untouched. Motorless. Smallmouth. Adventure. Sulfide mines.

What? You mean, the mention of the Minnesota’s Boundary Waters don't conjure up images of sulfide mines? Well, it soon might.

Last month, the Minnesota House passed the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, a bill sponosored by freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack.

The bill certainly has a pleasant-sounding ring. What it does, however, might not sit so well with those who value hunting and fishing opportunities in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Act authorizes a land swap of some 86,000 acres of school trust land with the federal government.

What's the big deal? Well, it's believed that the school trust lands inside the Boundary Waters area are sitting atop a substantial amount of sulfide and copper. And because that land is located within the boundaries of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, it cannot be mined.

When Minnesota became a state in 1858, Sections 16 and 36 of every Minnesota township were set aside in trust to benefit public schools. The state could sell the land, lease it, use it, but any benefits or profits must be used to benefit public education. A Permanent School Fund was established to handle the profits and interest from those lands to benefit education.

 Within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is roughly 86,000 acres of school trust land. It is that land that Cravaack and the Minnesota House hopes to swap with the feds for national forest land just outside of the wilderness boundary, essentially removing the wilderness restrictions from the land and opening it up for mining and timber harvest. Cravaack defends the move by saying that the lands are not able to fulfill their intended purpose of benefitting public education because federal wilderness regulations prevent them from being mined, timbered or sold.

Opponents of the move say mining in near the wilderness area will have dire impacts on the Boundary Waters area.

The Boundary Waters are a unique place. The BWCAW spans about 1 million acres, stretching nearly 150 miles along the Canadian border and Canada's Quetico Provincial Park. It's bordered on the West by Voyageurs National Park.

The area contains 1,200 miles of canoe routes, a dozen hiking trails and about 2,000 campsites. It is a non-motorized area, meaning if you want to fish for the abundant smallmouth and walleye in its waters, you must do so by paddling.

It's hard to believe the claims that large-scale mining and timber operations in the heart of the area will not have significant impacts and the long-term ecological impacts of sulfide and copper mines on fisheries have not been proven to be positive.

Yet Cravaack has claimed that his bill maintains federal air and water standards, upholds the Endangered Species Act, and generates roughly $26 million for education through mining and logging.

The Minnesota Senate has not yet moved on the bill. Numerous organizations are working on both sides of the issue and the battle lines are clear and predictable: Wilderness vs. progress. Jobs vs. recreation.

Where do you stand?

 

Comments (12)

Top Rated
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from Erik Jensen wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Thanks, Tony, for covering this. I have been involved with the fight against sulfide mining in MN and the attack on backcountry habitat it represents through the MN Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Moose hunting in the BWCA was one of the great experiences of my life, as was taking my daughters there on a fishing trip for the first time this past summer.

A few points people should keep in mind: the way the first project happens will set precedent for many others in the area, some of which will happen in watersheds that drain directly into the BWCA. Polymet, the foreign firm that is leading the first project, strongly opposes legislation that would make them liable for all cleanup costs and have been able to block this in the MN legislature regardless of which party is in charge. While the U.S. house Cravaack bill is especially egregious in that the national forests lands outside the BWCA that will be traded for the state land with the BWCA are not even specified, the rush to sulfide mine is largely bi-partisan.

This is sulfide mining, not taconite mining. The latter has been done for a long time with much less environmental damage. Sulfide mining has never been done in a water-rich environment without massive environmental damage.

Lastly, if I have any quibble with the article, it is the characterization of "recreation vs. jobs". There is a tourism economy in the area that is reliant on the pristine habitat. These jobs are sustainable and will stay. Mining has become very automated, so the companies can do a lot of this work with machines. It is true the few jobs created will probably be "good union jobs" with good wages and benefits compared to tourism jobs. But, they will only last about 20 years and it's not even clear how many local people will be hired. When it's done, the habitat and tourism economy will be permanently damaged and the public is on the hook to clean up the mess. This last point is what is leading many in the region, where opinion was originally very supportive of the mining projects, to question the wisdom of going ahead, and opposition is rising. More MN sportsmen need to add their voices !

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from TonyH. wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

MN08er -- You're right and I wasn't trying to state that mining/timber harvest will be conducted INSIDE the wildnerness area.

We reworded to make that more clear. The swap would be to exchange the state school lands INSIDE the area for other Federal lands surrounding the area -- I do apologize that wasn't made more clear. I didn't intend for it to read like the mining would be done inside the area but it did. Thanks for calling me on it so that it could be made right.

The end goal is to swap out the lands within the Boundary Waters area for Federal lands nearby and to open those lands to mining and timber harvest. Those lands will come out of the national forest lands surrounding the wilderness area -- lands that are currently open to public hunting and fishing. And, of course, lands that are very much a part of the makeup of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area including streams, creeks and habitat that can have impacts on the wilderness area itself.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

I am not for it in any way shape or form. Those mines will never go away and will be a scare on the land forever. Who is lining this legislators pockets?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ishi wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

May the ghost of the Rootbeer Lady haunt all who degrade this area.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from scoony24 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

No touchy touchy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from MN08er wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

BTW Tony, if you're going to criticize someone in print, maybe you should spell their name correctly. Just saying...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from MN08er wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Tony, do your homework before writing an article. The bill will not allow mining in the BWCAW. All Wilderness protections remain. Federal lands outside the BWCAW could be opened up for mining or logging. Embarrassing Tony, embarrassing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MWK_MN wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

DO NOT TOUCH IT!!!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

It's sick. Makes me want to puke. But I am sure "it's for the kids".

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from MNwhitetailHunter wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

what a joke! that area of untouched land is suppose to represent what earth looked like from the beginning. if they allow mining there that will change ALOT of things. First, say good bye to any protected land that hunting tax money went to. because any land set aside for the environment could go the same route. plus, logging will definitely change the wilderness.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MNwhitetailHunter wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

what a joke! that area of untouched land is suppose to represent what earth looked like from the beginning. if they allow mining there that will change ALOT of things. First, say good bye to any protected land that hunting tax money went to. because any land set aside for the environment could go the same route. plus, logging will definitely change the wilderness.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from tacoshmitty wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I'm trying to understand this. If I remember right, Boundary Waters is managed by the Superior National Forest which makes it federal land that has intermixed state lands. Wouldn't a swap of state to federal still retain the wilderness designation even though it changed hands?

I guess this may be a new, creative way for politicians to skirt the Wilderness Act for their extractive interests.I think the formerly state land would still be wilderness. Does anyone have any clarification on this?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from MNwhitetailHunter wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

what a joke! that area of untouched land is suppose to represent what earth looked like from the beginning. if they allow mining there that will change ALOT of things. First, say good bye to any protected land that hunting tax money went to. because any land set aside for the environment could go the same route. plus, logging will definitely change the wilderness.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from tacoshmitty wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I'm trying to understand this. If I remember right, Boundary Waters is managed by the Superior National Forest which makes it federal land that has intermixed state lands. Wouldn't a swap of state to federal still retain the wilderness designation even though it changed hands?

I guess this may be a new, creative way for politicians to skirt the Wilderness Act for their extractive interests.I think the formerly state land would still be wilderness. Does anyone have any clarification on this?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

It's sick. Makes me want to puke. But I am sure "it's for the kids".

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from MNwhitetailHunter wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

what a joke! that area of untouched land is suppose to represent what earth looked like from the beginning. if they allow mining there that will change ALOT of things. First, say good bye to any protected land that hunting tax money went to. because any land set aside for the environment could go the same route. plus, logging will definitely change the wilderness.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MWK_MN wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

DO NOT TOUCH IT!!!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MN08er wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Tony, do your homework before writing an article. The bill will not allow mining in the BWCAW. All Wilderness protections remain. Federal lands outside the BWCAW could be opened up for mining or logging. Embarrassing Tony, embarrassing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from TonyH. wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

MN08er -- You're right and I wasn't trying to state that mining/timber harvest will be conducted INSIDE the wildnerness area.

We reworded to make that more clear. The swap would be to exchange the state school lands INSIDE the area for other Federal lands surrounding the area -- I do apologize that wasn't made more clear. I didn't intend for it to read like the mining would be done inside the area but it did. Thanks for calling me on it so that it could be made right.

The end goal is to swap out the lands within the Boundary Waters area for Federal lands nearby and to open those lands to mining and timber harvest. Those lands will come out of the national forest lands surrounding the wilderness area -- lands that are currently open to public hunting and fishing. And, of course, lands that are very much a part of the makeup of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area including streams, creeks and habitat that can have impacts on the wilderness area itself.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Erik Jensen wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Thanks, Tony, for covering this. I have been involved with the fight against sulfide mining in MN and the attack on backcountry habitat it represents through the MN Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Moose hunting in the BWCA was one of the great experiences of my life, as was taking my daughters there on a fishing trip for the first time this past summer.

A few points people should keep in mind: the way the first project happens will set precedent for many others in the area, some of which will happen in watersheds that drain directly into the BWCA. Polymet, the foreign firm that is leading the first project, strongly opposes legislation that would make them liable for all cleanup costs and have been able to block this in the MN legislature regardless of which party is in charge. While the U.S. house Cravaack bill is especially egregious in that the national forests lands outside the BWCA that will be traded for the state land with the BWCA are not even specified, the rush to sulfide mine is largely bi-partisan.

This is sulfide mining, not taconite mining. The latter has been done for a long time with much less environmental damage. Sulfide mining has never been done in a water-rich environment without massive environmental damage.

Lastly, if I have any quibble with the article, it is the characterization of "recreation vs. jobs". There is a tourism economy in the area that is reliant on the pristine habitat. These jobs are sustainable and will stay. Mining has become very automated, so the companies can do a lot of this work with machines. It is true the few jobs created will probably be "good union jobs" with good wages and benefits compared to tourism jobs. But, they will only last about 20 years and it's not even clear how many local people will be hired. When it's done, the habitat and tourism economy will be permanently damaged and the public is on the hook to clean up the mess. This last point is what is leading many in the region, where opinion was originally very supportive of the mining projects, to question the wisdom of going ahead, and opposition is rising. More MN sportsmen need to add their voices !

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MN08er wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

BTW Tony, if you're going to criticize someone in print, maybe you should spell their name correctly. Just saying...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from scoony24 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

No touchy touchy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ishi wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

May the ghost of the Rootbeer Lady haunt all who degrade this area.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

I am not for it in any way shape or form. Those mines will never go away and will be a scare on the land forever. Who is lining this legislators pockets?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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