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Local View: BWCAW can be protected while allowing mining

The U.S. Forest Service is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and other statutes to include local governments in discussions about Forest Service lands. The Forest Service also is required to give states and counties the opportunity to offer their opinions as representatives of the constituencies of areas surrounded by Forest Service lands.

This is relevant to remember here in Northeastern Minnesota because no state or county official was involved in the Obama administration’s year-end withdrawal of more than 400,000 acres near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from future mining and exploration. The withdrawal was accompanied with a new environmental study of science and facts in the area that could go on for up to two years.

A U.S. Department of Interior notice states that for a period until “Jan. 21, 2017,” the National Forest system lands described are temporarily segregated from the United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws, unless an application is denied or canceled. This incorrect date never has been changed.

Since our state was formed, people of northern Minnesota have taken care of the land. Consider how half of Minnesota’s original wetlands have been lost. But about 75 percent of Minnesota’s remaining wetlands are in Northeastern Minnesota. In central Minnesota, invasive species have taken hold of 82 percent of the wetlands. Regions in southern and western Minnesota have lost 95 percent of their wetlands to artificial drainage and agricultural development. This has contributed to polluted streams and lakes south of us.

Our wetlands contribute to our good water quality here in northern Minnesota. And, yes, sulfide taconite mining has been and is being done in the same watershed as the proposed land withdrawal. Dunka Pit has been monitored for 40 years without any harm detected to the Boundary Waters.

School Trust Lands were set aside to generate revenue for all Minnesota schools. Minnesota used to have more than 8 million acres of School Trust Lands. Today, 2.5 million acres remain, and more than 92 percent of them are in 10 northern counties. Other parts of the state got rid of their School Trust Lands in favor of development and urban sprawl that led to polluted waters. Without mining revenue, money generated for Minnesota schools via School Trust Lands drastically would decrease.

Northern Minnesota has been good stewards of its land, not southern Minnesota.

There is so much concern by preservationists over tourism. Yet many of these very same people have done harm to our tourism.

After World War II, several pilots developed remote resorts and provided fly-in fishing services for guests. The 1949 Air Ban eliminated those resorts. The 1964 Wilderness Act forced out numerous more resorts, condemning many of them and pushing their remnants onto the frozen lakes so they could sink during the spring thaw.

The 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act eliminated even more resorts that weren’t able to operate under the new permit-quota system. Snowmobiling, a long-established form of recreation, including for ice fishing, was banned. The latest lawsuits against towboats target canoeists who use this service to more quickly get into the wilderness and out of the allowable motorized areas.

Just as mining technology has changed over the years, so have the rules and regulations for going into the Boundary Waters. We now have quotas, permits, limited numbers of watercrafts, limited motor sizes, bans on bottles and cans, and leave-no-trace rules. All these changes were to protect the Boundary Waters — and we’ve continued to do a very good job.

We can do the same with mining if we all work together.

Nancy McReady

Nancy McReady of Ely is president of the grassroots group Conservationists with Common Sense (cwcs.org). She also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Gov. Mark Dayton and the state of Minnesota, alleging the governor's executive order to deny access and leases to a potential underground copper-nickel mining operation financially harmed Minnesota residents. She is working with the Up North Jobs (upnorthjobs.org) coalition to raise money for the suit.

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