BROOKSTON, Minn. — In adopting a pair of resolutions on Tuesday, the St. Louis County Board said it opposes both elk reintroduction within the county and a proposed federal moratorium on mineral exploration within the Superior National Forest.
The measures won approval on 4-1 and 4-2 votes, respectively, with rural-most commissioners carrying the day over those representing the city of Duluth.
The resolutions amounted to mere position statements — one toothless in the face of federal government decision-making, and the other a non-binding sentiment that won’t itself remove the Cloquet Valley State Forest from consideration for elk reintroduction.
Chair Patrick Boyle called such measures “frustrating” and urged the board to tackle matters it can control.
Explaining one of his dissensions, Commissioner Frank Jewell called the resolutions “divisive,” for the way “they force votes that are almost unnecessary because we have almost no power in them.”
The author of both resolutions, Commissioner Keith Nelson, denied an attempt to divide the four rural commissioners from those representing Duluth — which include Jewell, Boyle and Beth Olson, who was absent. Nelson represents District 6, including the quad cities of Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert and Mountain Iron. Boyle did not vote on the elk resolution because he works for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which is party to the proposed elk reintroduction.
“I am tired of the people in my district being attacked for doing the right thing,” Nelson said of the mining resolution. “I didn’t bring this forward for political reasons. I brought it forward because this has a direct impact on taxpayers of St. Louis County. The monies derived from the royalties in ore, taxes that we would get — not to mention the amount of property taxes we would get from development of these mines — would be a tremendous relief for folks.”
Nelson’s mining resolution came in response to a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, which would reintroduce an Obama administration environmental review that was subsequently halted by the Trump administration.
Nelson repeatedly chastised McCollum for having concerns about the local watershed when he said her own district in the Twin Cities metropolitan area has water quality issues of its own.
Rich Staffon, president of the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, spoke from the audience in opposition to both resolutions.
“We need to realize the Boundary Waters is an international treasure,” Staffon, of Cloquet, said, referring to the mining resolution. “The least we can do is prioritize good transparency.”
On the topic of elk, Staffon said the county was right to consider disease, crop damage and vehicle crashes associated with elk. But he pointed to a successful reintroduction in Northwestern Wisconsin, where there is a herd of 200 elk, as an example of a program that credibly addressed those concerns.
Commissioner Keith Musolf said elk "seemed really good on the surface," but that he changed his mind after voters he talked with preferred putting efforts into maintaining healthy herds of whitetailed deer and other wildlife that already appears locally.
In surveys, the state and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have found overwhelming public support for the reintroduction of elk.
The elk issue will ultimately be decided in the state legislature.