The National Wildlife Federation

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Mining Near Boundary Waters Is "Unacceptable"

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — The National Wildlife Federation applauded testimony by former U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and echoed his support for legislation introduced by Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), which would withdraw mineral rights from 234,000 acres near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and protect the area’s pristine waters from mining. The legislation is in response to an announcement by the Trump administration to renew copper mining leases in the headwaters, which flow into the wilderness area.  

“Sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters is unacceptable,” concluded Tidwell at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing.  “The risks are high. The rewards are low. And our ability to fix anything when it goes wrong is non-existent without compromising the very wilderness characteristics that we are legally and ethically required to protect.”

“The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a paradise for outdoor recreationists of all ages with remote landscapes and nearly 2,000 pristine lakes that offer excellent hunting and fishing opportunities,” said Aaron Kindle, senior manager for Western sporting campaigns at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Boundary Waters provide outstanding habitat for moose, bear, otters, lynx, wolves and dozens of other species. Even a single open pit mine above this watershed could pollute the pristine waters forever. That must never be allowed to happen.”

“This wilderness area is a national treasure that provides world-class camping, hiking, paddling, fishing and hunting for thousands of families every year,” said Jason Dinsmore, director of conservation partnerships in Minnesota for the National Wildlife Federation. “Representative McCollum’s legislation will protect Minnesota’s vibrant outdoor recreation industry and more than 200,000 acres of public land and water from the devastating effects of copper sulfide mining.”

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, located within Superior National Forest, is the most visited wilderness area in the country. Encompassing over a million acres of pristine water and woodlands, it provides habitat for 230 species of wildlife.  The area also contains one-fifth of all fresh water in the National Forest Service system.  

Acid mine runoff from a copper sulfide mine site would pose serious risks to aquatic life, a decline in water quality and other severe environmental impacts. In 2016, a U.S. Forest Service study found that allowing a sulfide ore mine within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness could “cause serious and irreplaceable harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.

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