U.S. Forest Service says copper-nickel mining jeopardizes nation’s most visited wilderness
WASHINGTON – Hunters and anglers applauded a proposal Thursday from federal agencies that would protect the nation’s most visited wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. A long-awaited analysis from the U.S. Forest Service shows that copper-nickel mining poses a major risk to the BWCA, and the USFS draft environmental assessment proposes a 20-year ban on copper-nickel mining on federal lands in the watershed.
If adopted, the proposal would prohibit the development of any mineral leases on approximately 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters for up to 20 years.
“This EA validates what is obvious to any person devoted to this incredible water wilderness where we hunt and fish: The risk of copper-nickel mining to the purest waters remaining in the Lower 48 is flatly unacceptable,” said Lukas Leaf, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters' executive director. “This type of mining is not compatible with the BWCA watershed, and it’s clear that there’s solid scientific footing to implement the proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal."
"This decision confirms what hunters and anglers have always known about the Boundary Waters – that such a pristine watershed supporting a robust outdoor recreation economy is no place for destructive mining proposals that will permanently compromise our nation’s most visited wilderness area,” said John Gale, conservation director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “First initiated in 2016, administrative efforts to secure greater certainty for the Boundary Waters watershed have languished despite widespread support from local communities and sportsmen and women from all around the country. This has been a long time coming, and we applaud the findings released this week. We urge Sec. Haaland to move swiftly in securing this mineral withdrawal while we explore permanent solutions in Congress.”
USFS announced that effective June 28, a 30-day public comment period will be open on the proposed withdrawal. Once it’s posted in the Federal Register, members of the public will be able to review and comment via the project website. Following agency review of comments, the EA will be finalized and handed to the Bureau of Land Management, which will summarize and deliver it to the desk of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for a decision.
Yesterday’s action by the Forest Service continues efforts spanning multiple administrations to evaluate the impacts of industrial mining on the Boundary Waters watershed. The new draft EA would extend protections for 20 years, but only Congress can implement a permanent ban.
Among those commending the USFS on Thursday was Rep. Betty McCollum (4th-Minn.) who has championed protection for the BWCA via H.R. 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. If passed, H.R. 2794 would permanently protect 234,328 acres of federal lands and waters within the Superior National Forest from sulfide-ore copper mining. The bill has drawn support from a diverse range of local, regional and national groups.
“We’ll be encouraging sportsmen and sportswomen to participate fully in this latest opportunity to speak out against the risk of mining in one-of-a-kind habitat and a bucket-list hunting, fishing, and paddling destination,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our community has been working diligently for years to get to this step, with a thorough assessment of the threats to the region from proposed development and clear support for conservation from our federal agencies. It speaks to the power of hunter and angler voices that we’ve come this far, and we appreciate the administration’s commitment to ensuring that future generations of Americans will be able to experience the Boundary Waters as we know them today.”
Leaf urged SFBW members and sportsmen and women from across the country to weigh in with their support for the draft EA.
“It’s up to us to guarantee that this precious wilderness will be conserved for our future generations in perpetuity, which is why it’s incredibly important for supporters of permanent Boundary Waters protection to send comments in favor of the latest environmental assessment,” Leaf said.
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