Forest Service releases study of threats posed by copper-nickel mines near the BWCA
Officials from the U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental assessment (EA) calling for a 20-year ban on nonferrous mining across more than 225,000 acres of federal lands near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The document, released June 23, reads in part: “The purpose of the withdrawal request is to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources in the Rainy River watershed, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area Mining Protection Area, and the 1854 Ceded Territory, from the known and potential adverse environmental impacts arising from exploration and development of Federally-owned minerals. The requested withdrawal is needed because the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have seen and can reasonably anticipate increasing interest within the private sector for developing the copper-nickel ore minerals in the Duluth Complex that may adversely impact the Rainy River watershed.”
The release of the draft environmental assessment triggers a 30-day public comment period. Following a review of those comments, the EA will go under further federal review before Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ultimately makes a determination on the nonferrous mining ban.
If her past rhetoric is any indication, the 20-year ban could be possible.
“A place like the Boundary Waters should be enjoyed by and protected for everyone, not only today but for future generations,” Haaland said in a statement last October.
A mineral withdrawal for the Boundary Waters watershed was first proposed in 2016 before being canceled by the administration of then President Donald Trump.
In October 2021, the U.S. Forest Service filed an application for a mineral withdrawal with the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the mineral rights underneath most of the public land in the Rainy River and BWCA watershed.
In January, the Department of Interior terminated two federal mineral leases for a proposed Twin Metals mine, dealing yet another setback to the project.