DULUTH, Minn.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthworks today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service under the Endangered Species Act for their approval of the PolyMet open-pit copper mine on the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. The open-pit mine would destroy important habitat for the gray wolf and Canada lynx, both listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued its “biological opinion” on the mine proposal in February 2016, and the Forest Service issued its decision on the related land exchange on Jan. 9, 2017.
Washington, DC (March 25, 2015) –The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and its lead group Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, today held a press conference at Environment America to deliver more than 60,000 petitions calling for the protection of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is currently threatened by sulfide-ore copper mining proposals on national forest lands adjacent to the Wilderness and along waterways that flow into the Wilderness.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota is the nation’s most popular wilderness area. Straddling the border with Canada, this region includes one of the world’s most pristine ecosystems fed by a system of waterways supplied from the land of a thousand lakes. Scientists from around the world visit the Boundary Waters to study the wildlife and forest ecology of one of the most primitive natural environments still in existence. In addition to the natural beauty and scientific value, this wilderness supports a mature and robust recreation industry. Canoe outfitters, resorts, dogsledders, and other wilderness-based businesses comprise portions of a tourism industry that supports 18,000 jobs in northeastern Minnesota generating over $850 million in sales.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a unique wilderness area that covers over one million acres within the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. It contains over a thousand lakes and attracts more than a quarter million visitors each year, making it the most visited wilderness area in the United States. Visitors come to experience its remote wilderness character – its untouched forests and spectacular chain of freshwater lakes – through canoeing, camping, and fishing. It is even one of National Geographic’s 50 “Destinations of a Lifetime.”
Minnesota is known as the land of ten thousand lakes. The Northeastern part of the state contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park- pristine areas with extremely high quality waters hydrologically interconnected in an expansive web of streams, rivers, wetlands, and aquifers. It is this interconnectedness, that makes the series of open pit mines proposed for the region especially dangerous for the ecosystem.
Last month I visited Wisconsin’s booming silica sand mining region and saw sandstone bluffs strip-mined for sturdy quartz sand that’s essential for the horizontal hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from underground shale formations. I saw how residents there had little protection against silica dust exposure since Wisconsin has no regulatory standards for this relatively new mining industry. (Read my earlier column about it here.)
After Wisconsin, I headed across the Mississippi River to the southeastern corner of Minnesota. The industry is pretty active here too, with several mines and loading facilities and many more proposed, but so is the citizenry, which has been pushing the state to regulate frac sand mines and processing facilities.