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A Sportsman's View: D.C. learning what sportsmen already know about risks of copper mining

The U.S. House recently voted on a bill that would help facilitate a proposed northern-Minnesota sulfide mining operation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed. As explained in a Nov. 29 News Tribune article ("Vote delayed on Twin Metals bill"), "The bill is aimed at Twin Metals, the Chilean-owned company that wants to build a massive underground copper mine near the Kawishiwi River southeast of Ely."

David LienIn federal court, Twin Metals' lawyers recently argued the company has an absolute right to mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters. "They are ours," they said, according to coverage provided by the Ely-based group Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. "We own those minerals."

It seems odd that any American, a politician or otherwise, anywhere would be willing to let a foreign-owned sulfide mining company claim ownership of public lands' natural resources ultimately owned by all Americans.

Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated U.S. House apparently agrees (for now) with Twin Metals — although the political winds seem to be shifting. As explained by Lukas Leaf of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, "H.R. 3905 passed the U.S. House after a vote of 216-204. ... Of the 204 no votes, 22 were from Republicans. ... The bill didn't even get 50 percent of House membership voting to pass it. This bill will unfortunately head to the Senate but ... it arrives wounded and just barely limping."

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., crossed the aisle to join Democrats in opposing the bill. "It threatens Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area," he said, according to The Hill. "It stops the scientific ... review that's going on right now. It weakens the Antiquities Act, and it singles out Minnesota's national forests as not being allowed the same protections that national forests in every other state receive."

"This bill undermines bedrock environmental and public land-management laws in order to create a perpetual lease for a foreign-owned ... mine," Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said in the same Hill coverage.

The wilderness area supports thousands of jobs and millions in economic activity, and that is at risk with the mining proposals, McCollum said.

"If this bill passes, it will create an industrial wasteland along this chain of lakes and rivers, which so many people and businesses depend on," she said. "This bill poses an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to a pristine wilderness."

Bob Tammen, a retired Iron Range miner from Soudan, said in a letter to the editor in the Star Tribune: "According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, mining is less than 1 percent of Minnesota's economy. Instead of destroying our wetlands, we should diversify our Range economy."

"Minnesota sportsmen understand the need to develop some natural resources," Erik Jensen, co-chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, has said. "But this is not the place for sulfide mining. The most valuable resource in the Superior National Forest region is the hunting, fishing and recreational values."

Those are the same values that have transformed the economies of places like Ely, which has not been a mining town since 1967. Nonetheless, Ely is one of the most prosperous communities in Northeastern Minnesota. In 2016, it was named one of National Geographic's "World's Best Towns for Outdoors Thrills," as the News Tribune reported. It was listed along with other outdoor destinations such as Moab, Utah, which also is a former mining town.

In a Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters article in November, Jason Zabokrtsky, owner of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, said: "I landed (a) 29-inch walleye while fishing downstream of the proposed risky sulfide-ore copper mine. These mines inevitably poison surrounding waters with acid mine drainage — and that kills fish. We must defend our public waters from foreign mining giants that jeopardize our sporting heritage and the world-class fishing opportunities of the Boundary Waters."

Many sportsmen and sportswomen in Minnesota agree. And although Washington, D.C., is a long ways from northern Minnesota, politicians from both side of the isle are beginning to get the message.

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colo., and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force officer, a board member of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (, and the author of "Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation." For additional information on this subject, he recommends