Local View: Mining-threatened Boundary Waters remains a top priority

From the column: "In the water world that is northern Minnesota, one thing you can count on is that any sulfide-mine proposal is also a watershed-ruining disaster in waiting."

David A. Lien


In October, I joined a group of hunters, anglers, and others for an annual Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trip. On Bald Eagle Lake, we noted the remarkable comeback of trumpeter swans, counting 37 in one bay. Although we didn’t encounter any other paddlers until our fifth day, the Boundary Waters is known as America’s favorite wilderness.



One Boundary Waters-related economic impact measurement is its number of annual visitors. Around 166,000 people traveled into the wilderness in 2020 and in 2021, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Writer Kris Millgate added in the January 2022 issue of Field & Stream that, “More than 165,000 people visited the Boundary Waters in 2020, which was a 10-year high.” In addition, this year, both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times included the Boundary Waters among top places to visit.

In the Adventure & Travel section of the Jan. 6 Wall Street Journal, columnist Jacqueline Kehoe wrote, “You can still drink straight from many of the 1,200 lakes in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, the million-acre liquid maze just shy of the Canadian border. … With mining interests eyeing the region, every tourist visit this year plays a pivotal role in the area’s conservation.”

In “52 Places to Go in 2024,” New York Times contributor Stephanie Pearson wrote, “This roadless wilderness is pristine, a place to fish for walleye, hear the haunting call of a loon and camp in thick boreal forest—it’s also a habitat for bears, wolves and lynx … But the area’s future remains uncertain.”



The copper and nickel deposits beneath the lakes and forests of Northeastern Minnesota are encased in sulfide ore. When that ore is exposed to air and water in the mining process, it can produce sulfuric acid runoff. Lakes, rivers, and entire watersheds can become so polluted and poisoned that wildlife, like trumpeter swans, can die just from drinking the water.

In the fall 2005 Backcountry Journal, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers founder Mike Beagle said, “The best hunting and angling opportunities lie in America’s roadless areas and designated Wilderness areas. … Benefits pour out of Wilderness Areas, in the form of clean water.” As I documented in a December Backcountry Hunters & Anglers social-media post, “Hardrock mining is the most polluting industry in the United States, with, as its calling card, Superfund sites, polluted waterways, and lakes so toxic birds die when they land on them.”

“I always naïvely thought this wilderness would remain pristine forever, but it is under constant threat from mining,” Stephanie Pearson wrote in January for the New York Times. “That’s why it’s so important for the world to read about it now.” Indeed, with mining interests “eyeing the region,” hunters and anglers have taken notice and are taking the initiative.



Over six years ago, Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers posted a “Top 10 Reasons” to stop the Twin Metals sulfide mining proposal to protect northern Minnesota's waterways, watersheds, and wildlife. We also posted “100-plus reasons” to block this mining in 2017. All those reasons — and many more — are still valid today.

In addition, in our “Policy Priorities” this year, we identified the Boundary Waters as a priority landscape and reiterated that “we applauded the 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal of 225,000 acres initiated by the USFS in 2023.” In the water world that is northern Minnesota, one thing you can count on is that any sulfide-mine proposal is also a watershed-ruining disaster in waiting. There will be no sulfide mines here. Not on our watch. Not a chance.


David A. Lien of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force missile launch officer, author, and founder and former chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (backcountryhunters.org).


“Local View: Mining-threatened Boundary Waters remains a top priority.” Duluth News Tribune: 2/29/24. https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/columns/local-view-mining-threatened-boundary-waters-remains-a-top-priority



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